Scotland can count on leadership skills of gritty Strokosch
Cotter pays tribute to ‘ultimate professional’ Flanker to face former club Gloucester today
Vern Cotter can turn being taciturn into an art form if the mood takes him, but when discussing a player of whom he heartily approves, the Kiwi can suddenly change gear and become unmistakably animated.
No player is more guaranteed to elicit such a reaction than Alasdair Strokosch, the flanker who has won 46 caps but who many were surprised to see make the cut and go to his second World Cup.
Now 32 and playing in the second division in France with Perpignan, ‘the Stroker’ may have been a bitpart player under Cotter, but this is a man in whom the Scotland coach has total trust.
But, then, he is a player built in Cotter’s image: a rugged back-rower who has mined every ounce of his own talent; a man who was a karate black belt by the age of 12 and who plies his trade in the hard school of French tier-two rugby but who refuses to let himself be defined by the lax Gallic approach to fundamentals such as strength and conditioning.
“Al is the ultimate professional,” said Cotter. “He trains on his own and develops his game at every opportunity. In the game against Italy, he stepped up after we lost our captain and played exceptionally well. If that happens against Japan and USA or whatever, he is a player who has the ability to step up. He leads quietly and is a tough individual.”
Judging by the forwards he has chosen and the themes he chooses to focus on when discussing the pool matches, Cotter clearly envisages this World Cup campaign as being an attritional series of games that demand the skills and leadership offered by Strokosch.
The blindside flanker demonstrates commitment both on and off
the pitch, sticking with Perpignan despite the damage it could have done to his Scotland career; but then he reasons that he helped them go down for the first time in their history, so it is his job to help them back up.
“But I knew that if I wanted to play international rugby at the same time as staying with Perpignan that I would have to work more and do extra stuff,” he said.
“There are so many positives about French rugby, but unfortunately strength and conditioning isn’t one of them. You have to be proactive and take these things into your own hands, so I keep my conditioning at a high level through six-week plans.
“I need my fitness to be at a certain level so I measure it as I go along and stay on after training every day.”
Yet playing in French rugby is also good preparation for a campaign that will be brutally physical.
“It can be pretty nasty in Pro2,” he admitted. “It is an attritional, forward-based game and there are plenty of South Sea islanders in there as well, mixing it up.”
When Strokosch is part of the team who take on Gloucester in a ‘bounce’ game today, along with Greig Laidlaw and Alasdair Dickinson, he will be one of three members of this squad to have played for the Cherry and Whites.
As with his love of the grittiness and confrontational nature of French rugby, Strokosch loved his time at Kingsholm, the venue for Wednesday’s opening World Cup game against Japan.
“I loved every second of being down here,” he said of the blue-collar club he joined in 2007 and left five seasons later. “I loved the club and loved living here as well. It’s got a big place in my heart and it’s nice to be back.
“When I arrived, they had just finished the big main stand and the first game we played there was a night game against Worcester – it was amazing, the best atmosphere I’d ever experienced.
“Hopefully, the Gloucester fans will get behind us, although I reckon they will be supporting the underdog, especially as the underdog plays in cherry and white. I hope they get behind us though. I’d love to have the support of the Shed again, they really bring something out of you.”
Big time: Alasdair Strokosch (centre) hopes to add to his 46 caps at World Cup