Boks 'cherry on top' for Schalk

2013-10-16 18:00
Schalk Burger (Gallo)
Cape Town – Western Province coach Allister Coetzee says he would be “delighted” if seasoned loose forward Schalk Burger got a recall to the Springbok squad for the end-of-year tour.

There has been much debate in the media about the wisdom or otherwise of fast-tracking Burger, who has been easing his way back into rugby as a late-season Currie Cup substitute for defending champions Western Province, into the Bok picture for the three-match trip to play Wales, Scotland and France in November.

Considering the year-and-a-half absence the popular flank endured during his injury and illness-related woes, his return has been especially carefully planned and monitored at Newlands.

Yet it is seriously tempting to think “why on earth not?” if Burger, a 68-cap and globally-respected veteran of the international arena, does earn a place in Bok coach Heyneke Meyer’s tour plans – even if he is not initially earmarked for starting roles abroad.

After all, he would hardly be lacking in mental freshness and appetite – characteristics not necessarily guaranteed among some staple Springbok players who have been on the punishing first-class treadmill for virtually the entire year already.

If Burger has been able to add strong elements of his famed, relentless energy of old as an “impact” presence for the late stages of WP’s domestic campaign, why shouldn’t that hallmark only pick up steam in a similar capacity, for instance, for his country?

Another feather in Burger’s cap for a possible tour presence is that he is capable of operating in all three loose forward slots: he is familiar with No 6 “fetcher”, more of a ball-carrying blind-side role, and can also serve comfortably as an emergency No 8 if required to do so.

It is also clear now that WP coach Allister Coetzee, bidding for retention of the Currie Cup as his charges gear up for Saturday’s home semi-final against the Lions (14:30), has no reservations about a possible Bok summoning for Burger.

“I’d be delighted to see that for Schalk ... it would really be the cherry on top after his (injury and illness tribulations),” Coetzee told Sport24 upon inquiry on Wednesday.

The WP mastermind has predictably not been tempted to break up the current, smooth-firing loose trio of captain Deon Fourie, Siya Kolisi and Duane Vermeulen, although he did hint at the team announcement press conference that Burger might be in line for a full half or very nearly so in the semi.

“There’s been a careful plan with Schalk’s return to make sure he can handle the load at Currie Cup level which he is definitely getting right -- that is proven.

“I believe he is ready to play for longer than just 40 minutes now, and only confirming that at a higher level would be great for him. It would be a further confidence-booster for his future.

“We’re all just so excited to have him back in the mix.

“He is hungry, but he’s also been aware of the need for baby steps in this process. He doesn’t want to go too high, too fast, too soon.

“As I said, so much has been just been about getting rugby confidence back. Not just in carrying the ball but getting accuracy back in his game – those have been crucial things for us.

“He’s not far away from (challenging for) higher honours again, for sure.”

Coetzee said the 30-year-old, who lost a significant amount of weight when he contracted bacterial meningitis, was “back very close to where he needs to be” in physical terms.

“He’s done really well conditioning-wise and with gym work, because he couldn’t run all the time at first.

“Funnily enough, as he got more and more experienced he did gym a bit less, but now he’s started right over again and got stuck into that side of things eagerly ... building muscle-mass.

“I would say we’re well on the way to getting Schalla in the best possible conditioning shape he’s ever been.”

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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