In his last week of international rugby, it is Adriaan Strauss who has taken on the responsibility of driving the Springbok response to the big defeat to England and the shock upset at the hands of Italy last weekend.
Strauss has already publicly accepted the responsibility of driving the quest for a positive end to an abysmal year for the national team. The Bok captain usually only appears in front of the media at the captain’s press conference the day before the game. But at the start of the week he was alongside coach Allister Coetzee in the first press conference call in the build-up to Saturday’s match against Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
Listening to assistant coach Matt Proudfoot speak the next day, it became clear that there was a reason why Strauss took the platform rather than one of the rank and file members of the team, as would usually be the case on a Monday. In short, Strauss has taken the recent sequence of defeats personally, and has decided he needs to take charge and carry most of the load.
Asked if coach Allister Coetzee, knowing his position was under threat, would be firing up the players this week to go out and save his skin, Proudfoot said that was not the case.
“The response has already come and it came from the captain,” said Proudfoot.
“Adriaan stood up at the start of the week and made it clear that what has been happening is just unacceptable. He held nothing back and said that he wants a much better performance, that the Bok jersey stands for much more than what has been delivered on this tour. The captain was very clear and delivered a very strong statement on what needs to be done.”
Strauss will retire from international rugby after the Cardiff test and it is understandable that he will do everything he can to ensure that an unsuccessful short stint as captain at least ends on a positive note. While it will be hard for the South African rugby public to erase the memory of what has gone before, there is some truth in that old saying that the last game you play is the one that is remembered.
As far as the head coach goes, Proudfoot believes that he is coping well with the intense pressure that he is under. Coetzee must know that his position as Bok coach is now under severe threat, and it is a knowledge that many of his predecessors struggled to deal with when the crisis arrived. Coetzee hasn’t given that impression as yet, and Proudfoot backed it up.
“Allister is a remarkable man. I have worked with him for nearly 10 years (the pair were together at Western Province and the Stormers before this) and he has handled every crisis situation he has faced very well and with a calmness. It is perhaps because of what he went through when he grew up. Dealing with crisis is something that is just bred into him.
“Being head coach is a tough job, as it is with any international team, but Allister has borne that responsibility honestly.”