Boks need Schalk as pick-me-up!

2016-10-12 11:20
Schalk Burger (Getty)

Cape Town - Your country needs you.

If I were Springbok coach Allister Coetzee, that is what I would be imploring right now of one of his “old faithfuls” in first-class rugby, a certain Schalk Burger.

Already making well-received inroads in his new career on Saracens’ books - no surprise there - the unfailingly combative, yet also cheery-souled Burger is exactly the type of medicine the down-in-the-dumps Boks require if they are to show any signs of stabilising on the looming northern hemisphere tour.

At 33, the long-serving former Stormers/WP loose forward and often also captain in his dozen or so years at Newlands naturally doesn’t offer any significant long-term prospects for the national cause.

He is highly unlikely to still be playing high-level rugby, of course, by the time the next World Cup comes along in Japan in 2019.

Given their parlous current situation, however, with a feeble - by their standards - win rate of 44 percent in 2016, including a pair of really embarrassing hidings from the All Blacks, the Boks need simply and urgently to stop the rot in the three Tests in Europe (England, Italy and Wales in that order) ahead of any future considerations.

Burger’s mere presence in their extended tour squad, whether he starts or is even part of the match-day 23 as a substitute, would be an invaluable shot in the arm.

His popularity and the respect he commands, as a World Cup winner and holder of so many other frontline laurels, among Bok players nationwide is virtually beyond dispute.

At a time when few overseas-based players are genuinely proving assets to the Bok team, I can hear already the howls of protest – and I am respectful enough to listen to them - over any possible summoning of the versatile loosie’s services in this time of relative crisis.

But I would argue that Burger is a different rugby animal to most: a heart-and-soul player with an uncanny knack of delivering thunderous, relentlessly energetic service every time he pulls a match jersey over his head, regardless of the level of combat, and is asked to get between those white lines he so cherishes on Saturdays.

There is an almost indestructible quality to the blond marauder, given how courageously in the past he has shaken off the effects of debilitating injury and, in one much-publicised instance, frighteningly life-threatening illness.

He gives instant, unprompted leadership, direction and infectious enthusiasm even when he is not the designated captain of a team.

Just for the record, he would have been this writer’s clear-cut choice for interim skipper - ahead of eventual appointee Adriaan Strauss - at the outset of Coetzee’s tenure as Bok coach earlier this year, had he been available.

The last bit of that sentence is relevant, because I suspect Burger might well have been Coetzee’s choice too, had the player not been frank and honest enough to declare himself at least temporarily unavailable to the national set-up following completion of his 86th cap at the 2015 World Cup.

But by not completely bolting the door to any further service, it is irresistibly tempting to urge that the beleaguered coach have another stab at getting Burger – at least for some three weekends in November, excluding the Barbarians “warm-up” on November 5 which is outside the Test window period - to help the country out of unusually choppy waters.

Granted, such a move may well be a long shot.

When I sat down with Burger for an engrossing half-hour of reflections in the closing days of his Newlands era in mid-winter, consummate pro that he is, he clearly hinted that this would be a year, seemingly for full duration, in which he focussed overwhelmingly on bedding down with his new outfit in English rugby.

“My situation at present is not being available (for South Africa),” he told Sport24. “I want to leave a good impression at Saracens, especially in my first season.

“You never know ... maybe one year on an end-of-season Bok tour of the northern hemisphere ... I might try to help out the cause.”

There is a case for saying special circumstances warrant the veteran dynamo doing so more immediately, perhaps, than first intended.

A staunch patriot, Burger will be hurting over the Bok plight, you can be pretty sure.

Who knows, it may just be stirring some green-and-gold juices in him?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  schalk burger  |  rugby


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