Rugby World Cup 2011

Schalk poser for the Boks

2011-08-23 14:23
Schalk Burger (Gallo)

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 Wales.

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.

Possible 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.


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