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Best must fend off double bid for Irish jersey

By Niall Crozier

England Saxons 8 Wolfhounds 14: Ulster's Rory Best can expect a two-prong attack on his position in the middle of Ireland's front row during the RBS Six Nations Championship.

In addition to the challenge posed by Sean Cronin, the Leinster hooker's RDS stablemate Richardt Strauss has – against all expectations – re-entered the fight for a place.

With Strauss having made a rapid recovery from heart surgery, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has called that a 'bonus' hooker.

Doctors detected a hole in front-rower Strauss's heart in October, and Leinster immediately ruled him out for the rest of the season.

Just three months after a successful operation though he stunned his team-mates and coaches by making a return.

And on Saturday, the 27-year-old played the entire second half to help Ireland Wolfhounds see off England Saxons 14-8 at Kingsholm.

Ireland boss Schmidt hailed Strauss's resilience in battling back at least five months ahead of expectation.

"He's resilient and he's a little bit of an opportunist," said Schmidt.

"We had a couple of other hookers in the squad earlier in the season. Mike Sherry unfortunately had a knee injury, then Damien Varley took a bit of a knock as well. So it just allowed the door to open for Richardt."

Pretoria-born Strauss progressed through South Africa's age-group systems before breaking into the Cheetahs squad.

The IRFU backed Leinster to sign Strauss in 2009 in anticipation of the combative hooker qualifying for Ireland through residency. Strauss made his debut against his native South Africa in November 2012, and four caps.

Schmidt now expects the uncompromising hooker to put pressure on regular senior duo Best and Cronin.

Hailing Strauss' remarkable recovery as typical of his focus, Schmidt said: "I think that would reflect his character pretty well, it reflects how he plays the game."

Schmidt and fellow Ireland coaches John Plumtree and Les Kiss made the trip to Gloucester to watch the Wolfhounds' hard-fought victory on Saturday.

Tries from Isaac Boss and Ian Madigan, who also kicked two conversions, sealed the Irish win.

England Saxons: E Daly; A Watson, M Hopper (R Miller 40), S Hill (H Slade 31), C Sharples; F Burns, J Simpson (D Lewis 83); A Waller (N Catt 60), J George (D Ward 63), T Mercey (S Wilson 40); C Matthews (E Stooke 50), G Kruis; C Clarke, L Wallace, D Ewers (S Dickinson 50).

Ireland Wolfhounds: F Jones; F McFadden, R Henshaw (I Keatley 60), D Cave, C Gilroy (S Zebo 50); I Madigan, I Boss (K Marmion 70); D Kilcoyne (J McGrath 50), R Herring (R Strauss 40), M Moore (S Archer 50); I Henderson (R Diack 70), D Tuohy; R Ruddock, T O'Donnell (J Murphy 60), R Copeland.

Belfast Telegraph


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