Schalk Burger’s return to rugby marks a massive boost for the Stormers and, potentially, the Springboks, writes JEREMY PROOME.
Burger has been named as captain for the side that will face the Kings, and it will be his second hit-out following the Stormers’ 26-19 win over the Bulls in Polokwane.
‘I think my performance was all right, it’s nice to get another 80 minutes under the belt. Playing for the Barbarians last year was good for my self-confidence and my performance last week was a step-up in my eyes,’ Burger told SARugbymag.co.za. ‘The physical part of my game is coming back, so it's just about being more match-ready and match-sharp.’
The game against the Bulls was a positive step for Burger, who had a lengthy lay-off with injuries and illness, but while there are difficulties with regards to returning to the field, the 30-year-old knows that there’s a lot of work to put in to solidify his comeback.
‘You never lose the ability to play rugby, so your hands, vision and communication skills are always there, but the challenge is regaining that physicality and fitness. And then there's the tough part, which is learning to take tackles once again and being able to drive the opposition back.
‘The more I play, the more my body is becoming accustomed to it again.'
A successful return for Burger could put him in contention for a Springbok place again, but he will have a host of impressive loose forwards to battle against. Burger is determined to continually improve on the unique attributes he has.
‘I think, every year you try to evolve your game a bit, so for myself, I’m trying to improve my distribution and decision-making, and my leadership.
‘My goal is to mould all of those things together and try to keep a team reasonably calm under some high-pressure situations.’
‘The more I play, the more my body is becoming accustomed to it again'
Burger will share the responsibility of leading the Stormers as vice-captain under Jean de Villiers. Burger’s influence over the rest of the team is an integral part of his job, and he’s fully aware of the experience and guidance he brings to a team.
‘Jean and I are good mates, and I’m helping him, but it doesn’t necessarily change my role. I’ve been at Western Province and the Stormers a long, long time, so I’ll always be in a leadership role, whether I’ve got the captain’s tag or not.’
Burger met up with his former national team-mate Victor Matfield in the warm-up fixture against the Bulls and the blond flanker believes that it's something the Pretoria franchise will be ecstatic about.
‘It was a serious blast from the past. It was good to see Victor back on the field, and he’s had a good break and looking good physically.
‘He’s always been an imposing figure on the field, so he’ll add massive value to the Bulls and having a lot of experience coming into a reasonably young squad will be invaluable to them.’
Burger has faced off against the likes of Richie McCaw and David Pocock, but it’s the new breed of competition that he’s most looking forward to facing when the Super Rugby season kicks off.
‘I’ve played against most of the guys who’ve been there for a while now, so I’m keen to see what it’s like playing against the new guys.
‘I’m interested in challenging myself against all the players who’ve come on to the scene in the last two years. I played with [All Black] Steven Luatua last year with the Barbarians, but it will be good to get to know the other young guys on and off the field a bit better.’
Photo: Rory Keohane/HSM Images