Schalk Burger says the Springboks' composure has improved significantly in 2014, reports JON CARDINELLI in Dublin.
Over the course of the 2014 Test season, there have been times when the Boks have produced some breathtaking attacking rugby. The first-half performance against Wales in Durban, the fourth-quarter hammering of Australia in Cape Town, as well as the first 40 minutes against the All Blacks in Johannesburg will not be forgotten any time soon.
And yet, one shouldn’t forget the matches in which the Boks have had to fight for the result. They showed some ticker to hit back against Wales in Nelspruit, against Argentina in Salta, and of course in that game against Australia at Newlands.
The most recent clash against the All Blacks also witnessed some heavy mettle. In the final minute of play, Pat Lambie nailed a 55m penalty goal to edge the Boks into the lead. Duane Vermeulen then made the breakdown steal that stopped the New Zealanders’ final assault.
They have set themselves some lofty goals this November, and it’s likely that their composure will be put to the test again in Dublin, London, and even in Cardiff. Burger said on Wednesday that this group is stronger now than it was 12 months ago.
‘Obviously consistency in selection helps, and what we’re seeing now is that the team is settled. That allows for more clarity of mind [in the pressure moments], and the execution is usually that much better,’ the veteran flanker said.
‘Over a three-year period, there have been a few close losses, but it’s clear that we’ve learned from those mistakes. In the last two matches of the Rugby Championship, the decision-making was much better and we turned a corner form-wise.
'Having said that, we want to improve over the next four weeks, and there are only eight games before the 2015 World Cup. So we will be pretty desperate to build up a head of steam before that.’
Burger has only started one Test this season, as Heyneke Meyer has opted to use him as an impact player from the bench. The likes of Burger, JP Pietersen and Bakkies Botha made a marked difference when introduced during the latter stages of that match against Australia in Cape Town.
‘In the past, maybe a coach would have only backed his starting XV to do the job. But Heyneke has great confidence in the guys on the bench, that we can change the game and possibly win it,’ said Burger. ‘The final scoreline [28-10] of that Newlands game was not reflective of the contest, we had to fight for the result. The bench had a big impact.’
Burger has proved that he still has a lot to offer the Boks. For now, he appears to be content to serve as an impact player.
‘Since coming back [to rugby after a series of injuries and a life-threatening illness in 2013], I am grateful for every chance I get on the rugby field. And I’ve kept an open mind since getting another chance at the Boks, I will fit in wherever they need me.’
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