Schalk ‘out of dark space’
Schalk Burger (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Rocked by economic woe, soaring fuel costs, political power scrambles and corruption, strike upheaval and a seemingly never-ending cycle of crime, South Africa could do with some good news.
So here’s a wee bit of relief from the general gloom: Schalk Burger
, one of the country’s most iconic sporting sons, is on the comeback trail ... and this time, touch wood, it’s for real.
It won’t necessarily lift the tottering rand but, all going well, Sport24 can exclusively reveal that the blond dynamo of loose forward play is freshly earmarked to return to first-class rugby on the second weekend of Super Rugby 2013 activity for the Stormers, the SA conference winners earlier this year and losing semi-finalists.
Western Province and Stormers head coach Allister Coetzee told us on Wednesday: “I can give you a positive update: Schalk saw the specialist last week and he was very pleased with where the knee is at right now.
“So much so that as from next week (the player) can start the rehab programme - Schalk is really walking actively on the knee again, without a brace. He will thus be able to step up things like cycling, swimming and so on.
“From Schalk’s own perspective, he is so excited there is no (further) pain at the moment ... yes, you could say he’s out of the dark room.
“Knowing Schalk, he’s not simply trying to be optimistic, either; he’s an honest and upfront bloke in terms of that. He’s been out for months ... you would think he knows when to be optimistic or to feel differently.”
Burger, who damaged left knee ligaments in an awkward tackle against the Hurricanes at Newlands back in late February, has had a deflating few weeks after getting back into some conditioning work with the Stormers squad around the mid-year mark, only for the injury to respond poorly to initial rehab and effectively take him back to square one.
That setback even sparked premature - but perhaps understandable - reports at the time that his illustrious career might be in jeopardy.
Coetzee said he was “absolutely confident” Burger was on track to begin the next Super Rugby campaign.
“If he should miss out on something (early on) ... maybe one game in February. But we do expect a full-on kind of return to training during December; we will go about his return conservatively on the knee front but the other parts of his body will still be drilled - don’t you worry about that!
“Honestly, he is so looking forward to next year. He has been seriously frustrated simply watching the other players out there.”
Under scheduled circumstances, then, Burger is earmarked to miss the Stormers’ tough opener, a Loftus derby against old foes the Bulls on February 22, but then make his keenly-anticipated return against the Sharks at Mr Price Kings Park on March 2.
His first game back before the Newlands faithful, all going well, would be the third fixture of the Stormers’ programme - another demanding one against defending champions the Chiefs on March 9.
Coetzee agreed that there had been some unintentional blessings in Burger’s sidelining, even if it has been for longer than previously anticipated.
“We know that (All Blacks captain and a great Burger rival) Richie McCaw is to have a six-month sabbatical from rugby in the first part of next year ... this has really been Schalk’s own sabbatical, and perhaps much-needed in many respects.”
Although it may seem to many people that the famously combative Burger has been around first-class rugby forever, he is actually almost two years younger than McCaw at 29 and presumably has plenty left to offer the game if the knee does, indeed, repair properly.
Burger has earned 68 Springbok caps since 2003 and was considered among the favourites to assume the captaincy when Heyneke Meyer
took over as national coach earlier this year, only for long-time Stormers team-mate Jean de Villiers to grab the reins in his absence.
De Villiers also smartly steered the Super Rugby ship for the franchise after Burger’s mishap early in the campaign.
Coetzee did not commit to who his Stormers captain would be in the new year - presumably he will first want assurance that Burger is genuinely ready for consistent activity again.
“He and Jean are fantastic leaders and we’ve also had captaincy from a younger guy like Deon Fourie and also Duane (Vermeulen) ... so with leadership I’ve got no problem at all. But definitely Schalk will be in the mix.”*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing