Schalk poser for the Boks
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – As one of the truest stalwarts
of the 2007 Rugby World Cup-winning team, Schalk Burger’s name among Tuesday night’s Springbok
squad for the defence of the trophy is assured ... but will the former IRB
player of the year start the first match against Wales?
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That could cause some head-scratching among
the Bok management soon after touchdown in New Zealand, as they prepare to meet
a Welsh team (in Wellington on September 11) buoyed by Monday’s elevation on
the IRB rankings to sixth from seventh.
They switch places with Ireland, in another
gentle reminder for South Africa -- despite their own optimism following the comfortable
Port Elizabeth victory over the weakened All Blacks -- that they will no
first-up pushovers at all in Pool D.
Given that the Castle Tri-Nations success
in the Friendly City was also the overdue maiden Bok win of the year, coach
Peter de Villiers may not wish to tinker too much with the combo who ground out
the 18-5 result for the Wales challenge.
The experimental New Zealand loose trio,
admittedly minus their talismanic captain Richie McCaw, played second fiddle to
the Bok starting alliance of Heinrich Brussow (the man of the match), Willem
Alberts and Pierre Spies.
All three, to varying degrees, convinced in
PE, which begs the question of whether Burger, who has not played any rugby
since injuring his thumb in the Stormers’ Super Rugby semi-final defeat to the
Crusaders at Newlands in early July, will force his way into the XV to play
De Villiers reminded this writer at a press
conference only a fortnight back of Burger’s strong recuperative powers – he is
certainly medically tipped to be raring to go on September 11, and has a
reputation for taking to combat even after substantial stints “rehabbing” like
the proverbial duck to water.
Presumably Burger, still only 28 but
gracing his third World Cup, is strongly in the frame: many local pundits are
leaning toward a combination of Brussow, Burger (in the No 7 blindside flank
jersey) and Spies as the best bet for South Africa in key RWC clashes.
Not only is Burger a committed
ball-carrier, but he is like an extra fetcher in being able to steal or slow
down opposition ball at the rucks, and his general level of industry, mobility
and limb-clattering zeal has made him one of the most respected “loosies” on
the planet over a period of several years.
Alberts brings slightly different qualities
to the party, as a battering ram and “drive back” tackler of note, but if
Burger is deemed fully battle-ready for Wales, smart money suggests the 120kg
specimen from the Sharks may be best deployed off the bench for genuine impact
in the second half of that tussle.
A few weeks ago, there was speculation that
Burger’s possibilities as a No 8 might be revisited at the World Cup, but De
Villiers has always shown strong loyalty to Spies in that role and the
oft-criticized Bulls man’s two good showings on the trot for South Africa of
late suggest he will stay first-choice in that slot -- at least at the outset
of the Bok campaign in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
There have been whispers of one or two
surprises at Tuesday’s Bok squad announcement (from 19:30), with the name of
Bath flanker Francois Louw being freshly bandied about.
But with very senior Bok statesman Victor
Matfield dropping a strong hint that all of the match-day 22 who faced the All
Blacks will be on the plane next week, only eight “add-ons” are possible and
they will almost certainly all come from existing fringe members of the broad
current Bok camp.
My own guess is that Louw, whose inclusion
I would favour as a proper open-side deputy to the revitalised Brussow, may be
put in standby mode, just outside the initial squad.
Bok 30 (17-13 forwards/backs split): John Smit
(capt), Victor Matfield (vice-capt), Willem Alberts, Gio Aplon, Bakkies Botha,
Heinrich Brussow, Schalk Burger, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers, Bismarck du
Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Fourie du Preez, Jaque Fourie, Bryan Habana,
Francois Hougaard, Butch James, Ashley Johnson, Pat Lambie, Beast Mtawarira,
Johann Muller, Ruan Pienaar, JP Pietersen, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Danie Rossouw,
Pierre Spies, Gurthro Steenkamp, Francois Steyn, Morne Steyn, Flip van der
Merwe, CJ van der Linde.