Scot­land can count on lead­er­ship skills of gritty Strokosch

Cotter pays trib­ute to ‘ul­ti­mate pro­fes­sional’ Flanker to face for­mer club Glouces­ter to­day

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Sport Rugby World Cup 2015 - By Richard Bath

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

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