‘Burger needs chance to lead’

Heyneke Meyer believes the Springboks will need three strong captaincy options going into the World Cup, reports JON CARDINELLI in Johannesburg.

On Tuesday, the Bok coach revealed that Schalk Burger will lead the Boks against the All Blacks at Ellis Park on Saturday. With regular skipper Jean de Villiers still coming back from a knee injury, and Victor Matfield sidelined with a hamstring ailment, Meyer has been forced to explore another option.

Burger is only the third captain to be used by Meyer in four years. De Villiers has captained the Boks in 34 of the last 38 Tests. Matfield has led in the four that De Villiers missed because of injuries. For a long time, it was felt that the Boks didn’t need a third option.

But following the Test against Wales in November last year, Meyer started to consider what would happen if both De Villiers and Matfield were forced to miss the 2015 World Cup.

De Villiers sustained a catastrophic knee injury in that fixture in Cardiff, and there were doubts that he would recover in time for the global tournament. Earlier this month, it was confirmed that Duane Vermeulen, another potential captain, would play no part in the buildup to the World Cup. Meyer’s worst fears were then realised when Matfield broke down with a hamstring injury in the recent Test against the Wallabies.

That said, the situation has forced Meyer to trial another player in the position of responsibility. And as the Bok coach explained, this selection will benefit the Boks at the World Cup if men like De Villiers and Matfield break down again.

‘It’s always been in the back of my mind: what if Jean didn’t make it to the World Cup, or what if Victor went down with an injury … we would need another option. And I want to give that player the opportunity to lead before the World Cup. It’s no good if he has to do it at the tournament itself,’ said Meyer.

The Bok coach revealed that Burger may have been backed to lead South Africa in 2012 if he wasn’t injured.

‘When I first started as Bok coach, I was worried about the state of the leadership. With all due respect to Jean, I didn’t think we had the right players. Victor also wasn’t available at that stage. I thought about Schalk as an option, but he was injured at the time. He would have been a strong candidate had he been available.’

Burger contracted bacterial meningitis in 2013, and was forced to fight for his life. He made a miraculous return to Test rugby in 2014, and was recently acknowledged with the Laureus Comeback of the Year award.

‘All that he’s been through, it just proves that he’s a warrior,’ said Meyer. ‘He’s the type of guy to lead from the front. He’s an inspiration to us all: to the nation, the team, and myself. This is 100% the right decision.’

Photo: Duif du Toit/Gallo Images

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Jon Cardinelli