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    Schalk to be Stormers’ libero?

    2014-01-15 23:01
    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Hawston – Anyone doubting newly-appointed Stormers vice-captain Schalk Burger’s rights to an immediate starting place in the team this year may be overlooking one important element ... his rare versatility.

    It is understandable that some sceptics wonder whether he will make the grade once more at Super Rugby level in 2014; the 30-year-old relative veteran has missed virtually two years of first-class activity through injury and a related illness.

    But his confirmation by coach Allister Coetzee at pre-season camp here on Wednesday as deputy to incumbent skipper Jean de Villiers seems a powerful statement that he is truly considered “back” by the team management after a wretched run of absenteeism.

    “Where will he fit in, though?” is a question that has subsequently popped up on Twitter and elsewhere among Sport24 readers.

    The answer may well be: every loose forward position, potentially.

    It is an area where the Stormers are better blessed than most in depth terms for the latest campaign, with all of Burger, Siya Kolisi, Deon Fourie, Duane Vermeulen, Nizaam Carr, Michael Rhodes, Rynhardt Elstadt and even others like raw youngster Sikhumbuzo Notshe challenging for berths.

    Of that impressively swollen group, though, Burger arguably stands alone as the one who could grace all of the Nos 6, 7 and 8 jerseys with some ease if necessary – a handy attribute in the increasingly elongated and physically taxing competition.

    The gnarly Springbok and former IRB Player of the Year concurred to Sport24 after the Stormers’ well-attended training session in the hot summer sun that he could help out across the “loosie” slots.

    “Yes, I think exactly that ... I may well be used pretty much where I’m needed in the loose trio. It is a position where we obviously have heaps of options and I’m not hell-bent on a particular shirt.

    “But Super Rugby tends to be pretty harsh and gruelling on loose forwards, historically. We’re in a fortunate position where we can potentially play around a bit with the combinations during the season – the warm-up games we play soon should provide some useful pointers to what (works best).”

    Burger is most accustomed to open side, but is very far from a stranger to the blindside chore, and did his schoolboy and student hard yards at Paarl Gym and Maties respectively as eighthman, where he has had occasional experimental stints – not without some reward, either – for the Boks, the Jake White coaching era certainly coming to mind.

    As his sprightly showing for the Barbarians at Twickenham only a few weeks ago reminded, Burger isn’t simply restless energy and “crash, bang, wallop”: as the years go by he seems to be only adding to his skills in the deft-offloading department, further confirmation that he could operate in the full range of loose forward shirts.  

    “I’ve been around for a long time now; I guess when I was younger I was more set on playing in a particular jersey and getting as good as I could in that specific capacity,” Burger said.

    “These days I’m just grateful to be playing rugby and where I am employed isn’t going to make a massive difference to the way I play anyway.”

    Also to consider is that the pool of Stormers loose forwards may be reduced because of the early-season unavailability of Bok lock Eben Etzebeth, meaning that the second row credentials offered by players like Rhodes and Elstadt may be summoned.

     *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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