Newlands is nurturing a new Schalk Burger

    2019-06-10 12:20

    Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - It is fitting that it occurs in the same year that a certain Schalk Burger, one of Newlands's favourite sons, almost certainly brings down the curtain on his illustrious, widely-travelled and roughly 17-year professional career.

    But it can be said with increased confidence, I feel, that another restless, furiously combative loose forward, in the shape of Jaco Coetzee, has arrived as a genuinely Super Rugby-quality factor for the Stormers - and with future potential above that level - in 2019.

    There will always only be one Schalk Willem Petrus Burger in the minds of many Capetonian supporters and Springbok-loving ones from further afield, of course.

    Ever since he started throwing himself at rucks or winning dynamic yardage with little regard for own life and limb in first-class combat at the famous old venue (in 2003), the charismatic Burger, so instantly likeable away from the white lines, just seemed earmarked for a torrent of major honours.

    From the World Cup pinnacle, they have come in virtually all landscapes for him (although deep down he will always rue that Super Rugby title glory never came the Stormers’ way in his yeoman tenure - including as captain - for them).

    So you have to be deeply cautious about tossing around any "new Schalk" mantles at this point.

    The likes of him simply don't come around every day; he is an indisputable Bok great.

    But I also suspect I may not be alone in noticing a great many similarities in playing style and pure hunger between Coetzee - who turned 23 this very day - and the blond-mopped Burger of around the same stage in his development all those years back.

    The cynically-minded, after Coetzee delivered perhaps his premier showing of the entire campaign on Saturday, may also be tempted to venture "it was only the Sunwolves".

    But that would also under-estimate the enormity of the value he brought to an injury-ravaged, rookie-laden Stormers combination against a franchise who had, remember, already upset both the Chiefs and Waratahs away.

    While the Stormers were notably imperfect as a combination in eking out the nervy 31-18 result, it nevertheless took them to within one victory - Sharks at the same venue next Saturday - of qualification for the finals series.

    It needed someone to assert himself forcefully on the contest to make a vital difference and boy, did Coetzee do that.

    But it was really also simply his finest, perhaps, of a string of prominent showings this year: in a season marked by the wild inconsistency of South African teams and also plenty of individual players, the Pretoria-born competitor has been vibrant and constructive with virtually every start he's had.

    So thoroughly deserving of his player-of-the-match mantle on Saturday, Coetzee ended it looking the way Burger frequently enough has through the years: bloodied, patched-up but utterly unbowed.

    As with his revered predecessor, the former Glenwood High School (Durban) pupil once again showed off his hard-grafting engine and stamina, and similarly seems to play so much of his rugby on the edge ... usually in the most positive of senses.

    Slowing down in intensity just seems an alien concept to him.

    Coetzee, whether stationed at open-side flank or eighth-man - already very much demonstrating the loose forward positional versatility that is another Burger hallmark - is a feisty factor over the ball for turnover purposes, and extremely quick to attend defensive rucks.

    But he’s also not just about earthy aggression and muscle; for attacking purposes he has encouraging speed off a standing start, and on Saturday sold a wonderful little dummy en route to one of his two tries.

    While his vital statistics (almost 1.90m, some 108kg) suggest that he could even do duty with some assuredness on the blindside if required, his already evident ability to police either of the other two loosie spots influentially has been invaluable to the Stormers during their current crisis on the "casualty ward" front.

    In the absence of Springbok and franchise captain Siya Kolisi, for instance, they have been low on open-side specialists, while Coetzee looking so at home in the No 8 shirt has also compensated hugely for greatly disrupted campaigns to Juarno "Trokkie" Augustus and also Sikhumbuzo Notshe, who continues to under-deliver, somehow, on his huge athletic potential even when he is blessed with fuller fitness.

    All going well (Sport24 has sought an update on his contractual status at the cash-challenged Newlands), Jaco Coetzee should be a very central figure, I believe, in the new, John Dobson-led strategic era for the Stormers from 2020 ...

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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