Adriaan Strauss says Johan Goosen appears never to feel pressure and says this quality has accounted for his staggering rise.
Two years ago Goosen was still a schoolboy player. A prodigiously gifted one, admittedly, but a schoolboy nonetheless. However, his showings for the Cheetahs in his post-scholastic days hinted at a special player, one that caught the eye of Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.
Meyer has a strict criteria by which he measures players’ technical aptitude, but also places a high premium on their psychological constitution, believing it to be the thing that separates the good players from the great ones. In private conversations he has waxed lyrical about both these qualities in Goosen, although he is hesitant to speak too often about the 20-year-old publicly for fear of fueling the ever-growing hype.
Strauss, however, offered his opinion liberally. Having captained Goosen at the Cheetahs, he is well placed to do so.
‘He’ll be a little nervous initially but nerves won’t get the better of him,’ Strauss began when asked about Goosen’s first run-on start against Australia on Saturday. ‘I’ve said it to him before, he is the player who in my experience handles pressure the best. It’s as if he doesn’t feel it. Even including his technical skills, it’s his best attribute and under pressure you see the best of him.’
Goosen’s temperament will be sternly examined in the next fortnight. It is one thing to come off the wood for cameo appearances with relatively little expectation, but another entirely to carry the responsibility of steering the ship against the world’s two best sides. This against the backdrop of the team’s poor Rugby Championship campaign and a demand for victory. Not to mention the South African public’s poisonous obsession with finding a flyhalf of near superhuman capacity.
Yet I sense Goosen will emerge having grown in the estimation of South Africa’s rugby fraternity, with his mettle at the heart of his success.
I interviewed him for the upcoming edition of SA Rugby magazine in Bloemfontein last week and was struck by his responses to some of my questions. Emotions at his first anthem? Not much. Reaction from his parents upon news of his first selection? He forgot to call them. Approach to Test rugby? He just wanted to ‘jol’.
‘I didn’t really feel any more pressure than I ever have in, say, a school game,’ Goosen said, reflecting on his debut against Australia and subsequent fronting of the All Blacks.
Again, Goosen’s youthful spirit may be eroded by the appreciable on and off-field pressure that accompanies being the Springboks’ flyhalf. Here’s hoping it isn’t.
By Ryan Vrede, in Johannesburg