Schalk eases Stormers’ gloom
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Schalk Burger, his fiery presence so sorely missed in their lame Super Rugby exit at the hands of the Brumbies at Newlands on Saturday, has some cheering news for Stormers supporters.
A withdrawal from the quarter-final against the Aussie outfit (lost 39-19) because of an ill-timed groin strain two days ahead of the key clash, the 32-year-old loose forward will be back next year ... and for a fuller campaign, fitness permitting, than his 2015 one.
Earlier this year he rejoined the Stormers from his new base at Suntory Goliath from the fourth round of matches after fulfilling lingering club commitments in Japan.
They have tended to look vulnerable whenever he has been out of action, and the veteran Springbok arguably only underlined his ongoing value both to the Stormers and South Africa by not being able to throw himself into knockout battle with the Brumbies.
In the absence of both Burger and now-departing captain Duane Vermeulen, the reshaped loose trio of Siya Kolisi, Nizaam Carr (albeit a first-half departure through suspected concussion) and Michael Rhodes were outsmarted and outmuscled both at the breakdown and in general play by their David Pocock-inspired counterparts on Saturday.
But some relief for the Newlands faithful comes through confirmation from Burger to Sport24 that he will give a full go in 2016 to the team he has so loyally served since his debut back in 2004.
Formerly captain of the franchise, the hard edge and pack leadership he still provides will be invaluable as the Stormers seek not only to earn domestic dominance once more but go one better by finally bringing home the stubbornly elusive overall crown.
“The only things in my immediate future are going to Japan – hopefully after (playing a role in) the World Cup – and after that back here,” he told this writer.
“I expect to be available for the full campaign next year, because the Japanese will also have a new Super Rugby team and their calendar will change a bit; most of their own top professional players will play Super Rugby.
“It’s interesting because nobody quite knows how the set-up’s going to work yet: obviously if they field their best domestic players with foreigners they’ll have a pretty good side.
“But a lot of the Japanese players are also still amateur, and working for companies like Panasonic, and they won’t be released for the whole of Super Rugby – I can’t see the companies releasing blokes who work for them to play for some eight months in that competition.
“I’ve had a call about whether I’d like to play for the Japanese franchise, but I’m coming back here for the Stormers in 2016 ... after that, I don’t know yet. Jean (de Villiers) wants to hang in for next year at Newlands too, so that’s nice.”
The popular character served a sobering warning, meanwhile, over the brain-drain of talent from our shores.
“The turnover of players (leaving SA) is huge, and it’s probably only going to get worse.
“I think we’ll generally be OK in terms of hanging onto the top Springboks, but it’s that middle class of guys, if you like, that is increasingly vulnerable (to stronger-currency poaching from abroad).
“Look at Steven Kitshoff ... we’re sitting on a gem here, we always knew that, and there’s been a lot put into his development. Now he’s off to France, aged only 23. He’s got so many years of prime rugby left in him, a player like that.
“You want players (like him) to just get that Springbok cap as quickly as possible ... otherwise you never know: they could end up playing for France.”
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