Bok No 8 hole: How about Schalk?

2017-10-17 12:29
Schalk Burger (Getty)

Cape Town - There’s a slightly “forgotten” option for the Springboks as they chew on their paucity of No 8 specialists for the looming northern hemisphere tour.

And frankly, I’d argue it’s an attractive one.

Has anyone remembered a certain Schalk Burger?

Even at the advanced age of 34, he still throws himself around on a rugby field as if a restless, limbs-disregarding teenager. He’s instinctively always done that, and it probably won’t change until the day he finally hangs up his boots.

It was no different when the international legend contributed, as a second-half impact presence for that occasion, to holders Saracens’ near-ruthless 57-13 away thrashing of Northampton in the European Champions Cup at the weekend.

He played off the side of the scrum at Franklin’s Gardens, but Burger - he of such enormous global experience - prides himself in his comfortable ability to cover all loose forward stations these days.

Indeed, he probably prefers the more on-the-feet aspects of either blind-side flank or eighth-man after the inevitable early-career battering he took as an abrasive fetcher-type of loosie.

The former one-franchise man in South African terms (Stormers/WP) said an interesting thing to this writer in a lengthy, Newlands career-closing interview earlier last year when asked to clarify his Test status.

After all, he had not played for the Boks since they ended RWC 2015 by winning the bronze playoff against Argentina at London’s Olympic Stadium, when a couple of iconic SA figures officially bade farewell to the Test landscape.

Burger gave an emotional wave to an appreciative crowd as he came off in the second half, too, as if to say “that’s it” to an often stellar, 86-cap career with the Boks.

But he didn’t all-embracingly pull the plug, either ... something he confirmed in that July 2016 chat, when he said he was “unavailable” for an undefined period as he bedded down - consummate pro that he is - to a then-imminent fresh chapter with Sarries in England.

“I want to leave a good impression (at Saracens), especially in my first season,” he explained. (Burger is now in his second campaign there.)

“I suppose in the longer run there might still be possibilities. You never know ... maybe one year on an end-of-season Bok tour, there are a few injuries and I might try to help out.”

Well, there are a few injuries, and perhaps most notably at important, tactical string-pulling No 8 where regular captain Warren Whiteley remains frustratingly side-lined and the already proven world-class Duane Vermeulen isn’t a current option for that reason either.

The Boks have dabbled, with moderate success at best, in certain makeshift options in the slot recently, including more regular flank-familiar characters like Uzair Cassiem, Francois Louw and Jean-Luc du Preez.

So why shouldn’t satisfyingly street-wise, Euro conditions-primed Burger enter the radar as an emergency candidate for the job?

He has shown many times before - at both Test and Super Rugby level - that he understands the nuances of No 8 duty; his role there has included six starts in the green and gold.

There’s that sometimes over-employed argument about “building for the future”, which can merely serve as paper to slap over the worrisome cracks of the present.

Bok fans don’t perpetually want to see “young” teams: they want to see good teams; more consistently winning ones.

Besides, amidst a large group for an end-of-year tour, there would be plenty of room anyway for a raft of up-and-coming players – ones who would benefit hugely from the very presence in their broad midst of someone like the eternally upbeat, laidback icon of loose-forward play.

Sport24 has established that Burger is, indeed, eligible for consideration on the venture - as with any overseas-based players sporting 30 caps or more.

If chosen, he would be available for the first three tour matches (Ireland, France, Italy) before the closing fixture against Wales falls just outside the international window period.

There’s no time like the present, especially for this still slightly vulnerable Bok regime under Allister Coetzee, teetering delicately in many ways between constructive evolution and a slip back into the perils of mediocrity.

Speaking of Coetzee, he has long been an unashamed devotee of Burger’s qualities, and had him as his captain for generous tracts of his tenure at Newlands.

Even if only temporarily and at a time of need - which we have, yes? - Burger could be a bastion of gee-up reassurance, and massive pedigree.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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