Scotland v Argentina: Josh Strauss relishing life back in the pack

No 8 didn't give up hope of an international return during his 17 months in the wilderness

Josh Strauss
Josh Strauss was left out of the Scotland training squad at the start of the series but is now the man in possession of the No 8 jersey. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson***

IN AN age of conspiracy theories, it can be tempting to overthink some things. Take the omission of Josh Strauss from the Scotland squad for a year or more up until his recall earlier this month.

The first time the No 8 was left out just seemed like one of those things, but the longer his exclusion went on, the more the lurid speculation grew. Had Strauss said something to offend Gregor Townsend? Had there been a disagreement at training? Was there some obscure and complex explanation for the forward’s sudden fall from grace?

Not a bit of it. According to the player himself, it was all very simple: he had got too old and too slow.

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Crucially, however, no matter the 32-year-old’s own self-deprecating assessment, Townsend always valued him enough to stay in touch and identify areas he should work on. As a result, the Sale forward never felt shunned by the national squad, and never gave up hope of making a return.

So what explains Strauss’s return to Saturday’s starting line-up for the first time in exactly 17 months? Well, he is no younger now than he was a year ago, but, while readily accepting that his game has always had its weak points, he hopes that he has improved in key aspects recently – above all, becoming a little sharper.

“My big problem in my career has always been work rate,” he explained. “I’m not the most stamina-driven athlete in the world. That’s always been the thing, just getting more involved. Even at Glasgow, Gregor was always about the work rate.

Work rate is key

“The more involvement you got with the game, obviously the more you’re switched on. That was one thing he wanted to see more of from me.

“I sometimes just fall into that pattern of carrying the ball, not doing much for a while, then carrying the ball again. He just wanted to see more from me. That was basically the chat – just as it was at Glasgow. You’ve got to get it right or you don’t play.

“I always got calls, even if I wasn’t selected. We would talk about why, what I could do etc. The summer tour last year, it was more about going for a younger team, because I was in decent form at the end of the season for Sale.

“There has always been that communication, and Gregor and I have a good relationship. We obviously spent five years together at Glasgow, so I don’t think it was anything personal – hopefully!

“It was just maybe me getting old and slow . . .  hopefully I’ve become quicker in recent months! It meant a lot to get those calls. If you are getting those calls, at least the possibility is still there, and it keeps your motivation going.

“If you just don’t hear from the coach, you think: ‘Right, this is dead in the water.’ But that’s 50 per cent of the job as a coach, man management.”

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Still, even allowing for the beneficial effect of Townsend’s calls, Strauss had to ensure he did not dwell too much on the possibility of a recall.  “I wouldn’t say I’d put it out of my head completely,” he continued. “When two or three squads are picked and you’re not involved, I mean, it’s still not something I thought was done.

“But I got to the point where I just started thinking: ‘Just focus on your game at Sale. That’s all you can do.’ All I could do was play well for Sale and, if I was good enough, I’d get picked. If I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t going to get picked. I just focused on the controllable.

“When I first got the call-up after initially not being selected, you don’t really know what to expect. You sort of expect to come in and then when they name the squad that will be you flying back down to Sale and maybe being involved there. I just came in, thought all I can do is train as hard as I can and try and impress the coach that way.”

One game at a time

Strauss’ appearance off the bench against Fiji was his first cap since he played against the same opponents on tour in June 2017, and last week’s game against South Africa took his total of caps to 16. He may be one of the older members of the squad, but the World Cup is not too far away now, and he certainly has a chance to stake his claim for a place – even if he is unwilling to think that far ahead.

“You get ahead of yourself if you start thinking about next year, or 11 or 10 months from now.  I’ve got a bit more opportunity than I thought I would with Matt Fagerson going down injured [against the Fijians]. It’s been a bit of a surprise, but I’m happy to be back in.”

It was just before the last World Cup that Strauss became eligible for Scotland on residency grounds, having joined Glasgow Warriors in the early autumn of 2012. He made his much-awaited debut in the opening pool game against Japan and took part in the four games that followed.

He was good enough then. He can be good enough – and young enough – to play in Japan next year, even if he does joke about being past it.

“I’m older,” was his first response when asked to compare himself as a player now with the way he was back in 2015. “Maybe a bit slower and more fatigued.

“No, I think similar. 2015 before the World Cup, before I got my first chance to play for Scotland, I had a very good season.

“Time does flash before your eyes. It feels like yesterday that I was a young player – now I’m like one of the grandfathers of the group. It’s a weird business to be in, because you’re 32 but you’re mates with an 18-year-old.”

Strauss is one of eight personnel changes made to his starting line-up by Townsend, but Pumas coach Mario Ledesma has confined himself to just two. Rodrigo Bruni comes in at openside as Argentina, like Scotland, hope to compete more effectively at the breakdown, and Matias Moroni starts at outside centre in place of Matias Orlando.

Guido Petti moves from back row to lock to accommodate Bruni, with Matias Alemanno dropping down to the bench. Backs Martin Landajo and Sebastian Cancelliere are also among the substitutes and will be looking for their first involvement of the autumn series.

Argentina: Emiliano Boffelli; Bautista Delguy, Matias Moroni, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Ramiro Moyano; Nicolas Sanchez, Gonzalo Bertranou; Santiago Garcia Botta, Agustin Creevy, Santiago Medrano, Guido Petti, Tomas Lavanini, Pablo Matera (captain), Rodrigo Bruni, Javier Ortega Desio. Subs: Julian Montoya, Juan Pablo Zeiss, Lucio Sordoni, Matias Alemanno, Tomas Lezana, Martin Landajo, Matias Orlando, Sebastian Cancelliere.

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About Stuart Bathgate 1412 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.

1 Comment

  1. I checked-out that picture of Strauss. Is Toony up to something, and going to use Josh as a quarter-back? Because that’s definitely an American rather than Rugby Union football he is carrying.

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