Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – The Brumbies are reverently talking up the Stormers’ veteran flanker Schalk Burger ahead of the Super Rugby meeting between the sides in Canberra on Saturday (10:40 SA time).
Whether it is a tactical ploy or decoy device of some sort remains to be seen, but it seems clear nevertheless that they have noted the fiery Springbok’s continued first-class resurgence on an otherwise difficult overseas leg for the Capetonians thus far – they are winless after two games in New Zealand.
Burger’s industry and stamina has been a beacon of light for the Stormers, particularly in the desperately narrow loss to the Crusaders, and confirmation that his comeback from serious injury and illness is for real in 2014.
If they have trawled through the rugby archives, too, the Brumbies will be just as aware that in the Stormers’ lone Canberra triumph -- 16-3 during Super Rugby 2011 -- the then-captain of the visitors was an inspirational presence.
“Immense in defence, along with his hit-ups,” an Australian post-match report said at the time.
So they have been getting in early with their Burger adulation ahead of Saturday’s clash, which is very close to a must-win scenario for the Stormers, now with a precarious one win from four matches in the latest campaign.
The Canberra Times on Tuesday quoted Brumbies attack coach and former flyhalf icon Stephen Larkham as saying: “He’s getting back to his best; a lot of the Stormers’ play revolves around him.
“There’s no doubt this weekend he’ll be back at his top ... he’s one of those players similar to (basketball legend) Michael Jordan in that he gives the guys around him confidence, particularly when he’s playing well.
“The first couple of games he was finding his feet. There are a number of devastating ball runners in their forward pack and he is one of those.”
Captain Ben Mowen joined in the fanfare: “You have to show up physically against South African sides, especially when Burger is playing.
“(He) is only a game or two away from being at the peak of his powers. Fingers crossed we can keep him quiet on the night.”
Closer to home, and again not unrelated to Burger, Stormers enthusiasts will be curious to see the shape of the loose trio coach Allister Coetzee
puts out against the Brumbies.
There had been talk earlier this week that so deep was the lock injury crisis in their ranks that regular No 8 Duane Vermeulen
might have to be deployed there.
That situation would have opened the obvious, inviting gap for substitute Nizaam Carr, who was excellent in twin bursts off the bench against the Crusaders and Chiefs, to earn a well-merited start at the back of the scrum.
But it appears a suitably fit-again Michael Rhodes
will be able to rejoin the second-row fray – probably in alliance with the promising rookie Ruan Botha – leaving a dilemma over how or whether to promote the speedy, dynamic Carr.
The incumbent Stormers loose trio is made up of Deon Fourie, Burger and Vermeulen, although the last-named player has been strangely off his A-game in 2014.
One possibility might be to switch the adaptable Burger back to the open-side role, give Vermeulen the blindsider’s No 7 shirt – he is far from unfamiliar with the chore, going back to the Luke Watson
No 8 days in the Stormers’ fold – and hand Carr a start that way.
But that would also be tough on nuggety open-sider Fourie, who was outstanding against the Crusaders two weeks back.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing