Adriaan Strauss is the best hooker in South Africa. Bismarck du Plessis, pre his injury 10 months ago, was the best hooker in the world.
Strauss, in 2013, has been the stand out South African hooker and Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has the most glittering array of hooker options in world rugby.
Strauss, though, is the in-form hooker, the possible successor to Jean de Villiers as a national caption and on balance the best option to start the Rugby Championship.
Du Plessis will improve with more game time and in two months time may have established himself again as unrivalled among the world’s rugby hookers.
For now the focus is on Strauss as a player and as a leader. He has been immense and his rewards have been as immense, individually and in a team context.
He looked a very good Super Rugby player a year ago. Now he looks a damn fine international player.
Meyer rated him when he first saw him play as a junior. He rates him even more now.
I’ve consistently been dismissive of the Cheetahs as a top six team. They’re a good side, whose individuals play a fabulous brand of rugby but I’ve never regarded them as a team capable of winning Super Rugby.
And for a team to be in the play-offs I’d want to think of them as a possible championship winner.
On reflection, I’ve been wrong to dismiss the Cheetahs on the basis that I don’t believe they can win the tournament. My thinking in this regard has been too black and white and I haven’t given any credit to what the team has achieved with limited playing options and a limited budget in relation to the likes of the Bulls, Sharks and Stormers.
Players also have been loyal to the Cheetahs jersey and head coach Naka Drotske’s belief in a game plan that encourages expression among individuals and as a team.
The Cheetahs, always a team capable of attack, this season proved equally willing to defend. The victory against the Reds was a case of turning offense into attack and the play-off securing victory against the Blues in Bloemfontein was among their most balanced performances.
The Cheetahs suffocated the Blues, gradually sapped everything from the visitors and in the final 10 minutes delivered an emphatic finish because the disillusioned New Zealanders had nothing left to give.
Very good sides win in the way the Cheetahs did against the Blues.
Strauss’s leadership again was exemplary, the Cheetahs loose-forwards were again imposing and every player followed Strauss’s example.
The Cheetahs also look a content side – and they have been all season.
The victory against the Force in Perth showed the desire and character of the team. They’d already won two matches on tour but simply refused to concede defeat against a home team who dominated possession and field position.
The Cheetahs, like Castres in the French Top 14 final win against Toulon, are another reminder that if the value system is correctly applied, then invariably so too is the winning touch.
The Cheetahs have been fortunate with injuries, although the counter is that they qualified using four different flyhalves because of injury to their best flyhalf Johan Goosen.
Their management will contend they didn’t have the squad depth of bigger franchises but still managed their players well enough to deliver every weekend.
There will always be good fortune or a lack of fortune in rugby when it comes to injuries, but in defense of the Cheetahs there has to be acknowledgement of the pre-season training and the continued campaign efforts of the conditioning staff.
Then there’s Strauss’s play and his leadership.
The Cheetahs deserve applause. The old firm coaching trio deserves an apology. At least they do from me.
The Bulls, the pick of the South African teams this season, got out of jail against the Sharks in Pretoria.
Then again, to win this tournament, every team needs at least one of those cards.
And when the Bulls win the tournament (note to myself and others … not if), then Sharks fullback Riaan Viljoen should be the player who gets the award for most valuable contribution to the Bulls cause.
Viljoen missed a penalty from 25 metres that would have beaten the Bulls. Defeat would have meant a second place league finish and the probability of traveling to New Zealand for the final.
And we know the Bulls don’t win play-off finals in New Zealand, just like the Crusaders don’t win finals in South Africa.
Viljoen’s kick was a miss in Kwazulu-Natal but in a South African context it hit the Super Rugby spot.
PS: Note to Stomers … be a sport, see the bigger South African picture and roll over and play dead in Cape Town against the Bulls next week.