Schalk Burger showed why the Boks need a bruiser at No 7 and why he will be an asset to this side in 2015, writes JON CARDINELLI at Twickenham.
Following the 31-28 win, Heyneke Meyer commended the Boks for the power as well as the precision of their breakdown performance. The Boks showed more intent at the tackle in London than they had in Dublin a week earlier. While a shift in mindset was significant, so too was the change in personnel.
In the buildup to the tour-defining Test at Twickenham, I wrote that the Boks needed to change their back-row formula as well as their attitude. In Dublin, the Boks had missed a ball-carrying bruiser in that blindside position. That game highlighted the need for a powerhouse like Willem Alberts, who is currently missing because of injury. It also showed why the raw and ill-equipped Teboho Mohoje is not the man for that role, especially in northern hemisphere conditions.
In the absence of Alberts, Burger had to start against England. I wrote that his aggression as well as his experience would add value in a clash of this nature. As it would pan out on Saturday, Burger won the Man of the Match accolade following an outstanding showing at the collisions and breakdowns.
What was evident at Twickenham was that Burger added value as an individual and as part of an improved Bok back row. That combination of Marcell Coetzee, Burger and Duane Vermeulen looked a great prospect on paper. The trio lived up to the hype when they fronted England in the most testing of environments and conditions.
Afterwards, Meyer said the breakdown performance had improved remarkably. Coetzee, Vermeulen, and the pack as a collective were missing in Dublin. But in London, they combined to repel England at the collisions. On several occasions, the loose forwards effected a breakdown steal that completely killed the opponents' momentum.
Burger returned to rugby in September last year after an 18-month battle with injuries as well as a life-threatening illness. He was picked for the Barbarians to play against Fiji, and proceeded to show that he still had what it took to compete at the highest level.
The statement was reiterated again when he dominated the contact point in a Super Rugby game against the Crusaders in Christchurch. He returned to the Bok fold in June, but we would only see Burger back to his very best during the final two matches of the Rugby Championship. That 20-minute cameo by Burger against Australia in Cape Town was what swung the momentum in the Boks’ favour.
That said, this performance against England is undoubtedly his finest of the year. Considering the pressure the Boks were under, not only to obtain a result but to make a physical statement, this was some response. And while the entire pack deserves credit, one shouldn’t underestimate the difference Burger made to their collective performance.
Last month, Meyer said the tour to Europe would provide the answers to some important World Cup-related questions. Through his efforts against England at Twickenham, Burger has made a telling statement. He can and should travel to the 2015 global tournament as a quality alternative to Alberts, and possibly even a starter in the big knockout games.
A year ago, many applauded his comeback but wondered if he would ever regain his edge. After this performance, the debate must be put to rest. The Incredible Schalk is back.
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