Schalk Burger and Heyneke Meyer (Gallo Images)
Johannesburg - Springbok loose forward Schalk Burger may have seen everything, but that is exactly why he is one of the most valued players for South Africa in the lead-up to Saturday’s Rugby World Cup opener against Japan in Brighton.
According to the supersport.com website, Burger’s wealth of experience, along with that of his Suntory Sungoliath teammate Fourie du Preez, has been valuable in preparing the Boks for a foe they have never met before on a rugby field, even though they will enter heavy favourites to win.
And Burger is not underestimating the Japanese, even though most of the Bok supporters will be. Shrewdly coached by Eddie Jones they can make the Boks’ life difficult, although it would be a dark day in Springbok history if they were to fall at the first hurdle at this year’s tournament.
That is why Burger summed up so succinctly what he expects from the opposition this weekend, especially considering he knows a whole lot more about them from his time in Japan than the rest of his teammates.
“It is first time we are playing the Brave Blossoms and that means it is something completely new,” Burger said.
“They get very low in the scrum but we are renowned for the scrum so it is something we will be targeting.”
Burger’s biggest concern however is that his teammates might underestimate their task and thing they will walk into the game and simply turn up to win. The Japanese, according to Burger, have several ways of making the Boks struggle.
“The contact point is about a half metre lower, and they do the chop tackle. Only a few Super Rugby teams do it, and then the speed of the game is something else we will have to watch, we’re not that familiar with that high tempo game.
“Japan are tough competitors and well coached by Eddie (Jones), we have worked with him and technically he is one of the best. Fourie and I are definitely not underestimating them. Even if the scoreboard flatters you, games can still be really hard.
Burger plays down the fact he is in his fourth Rugby World Cup and the incredible journey he has undertaken to get here. Not only did he overcome a broken bone in his neck a few seasons ago, but also bacterial meningitis that almost cost him his life.
Still he has few regrets, and the word “perspective” features a lot in his vocabulary at the moment.
“My perspective had changed, everything used to revolve around rugby,” he admits.
“When I got injured in 2012 rugby had dominated my life. A lot has happened; I’ve now got two little boys and have had my injuries. So rugby is now a smaller pot, it is still a big deal but I see it in a different perspective.”
Burger has shrugged off suggestions that the senior players resemble a new version of “Dad’s army” and underlined the experience they will bring to a side filled with a number of World Cup debutants.
“Yes we have some more experience than others, but not quite dad’s army. Our average age is 26, but experience you can’t buy - You either have been at World Cups or you have not - we are fortunate that we have a lot from winning in 2007.
“One thing that helps is that you learn what not to do, you learn from your mistakes and know when you are on the right track. Us experienced guys have the job of getting the guys on same wave length. They must understand that there are going to be tight situations and you need to know how to get out of them, how do you turn it into a favourable position?
“Youngsters bring the energy that we feed off but we older guys know how to handle things.”