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,
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
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
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