Former Springbok flank Schalk Burger believes that if you want to enjoy success at the World Cup then your preparation needs to put you in the best possible position, writes WADE PRETORIUS.
The 2007 World Cup winner knows what it takes. He has the medals and trophies to prove it. The battle scars and aches and pains are further reminders of his unquestionable CV.
Speaking at a Laureus Sport for Good breakfast in Cape Town, the 36-year-old was clearly still passionate about the team he represented with distinction 86 times in a career that spanned more than a decade.
A recent string of positive results have buoyed the country’s emotions around the team a month out from the World Cup. And Burger is optimistic too.
The personnel that will take the field in Japan have come together well, but Burger also points to the knowledge of the technical team which has and will continue to play a vital function ahead of the tournament.
‘The first feeling or emotion after winning the World Cup is relief,’ Burger tells SA Rugby magazine.
‘Sure, you celebrate but after the final whistle, the thing you think about is, “We’ve done it. It’s over. We are the champions” and you are relieved.’
The overriding emotion is down to months of hard work, sweat and grinding away. And it’s all achieved in the ever-increasing microscope of the public eye and scrutiny.
‘Pressure is always there. From yourself to perform, the expectations of the team and the country. And there are only a few things you can do to counteract it.
‘Our previous World Cup , maybe we weren’t as well prepared. There were a few plans that didn’t go according to plan and then you have to adapt as best you can when the plans change.
‘Some teams get tagged with different names, like chokers or whatever, and that can make a squad uptight. You don’t want to teams to be nervous. That’s not going to end well.
‘There are things that you can do in the buildup or over the years to give you confidence.
‘For me, preparation is vital. Being the most prepared team going into these big events gives you freedom to go out and play your natural game. Meticulous planning puts you ahead of the pack because when situations change, you’ve been prepped and you react quickest. Nothing makes you nervous or makes you doubt how you will respond.’
Burger has every confidence that Erasmus and his staff will put the Springboks in a powerful position and enable them to concentrate on executing the well thought-out plans.
‘We know Rassie will be prepared. He’s meticulous. Everyone in the squad will know where they stand, I’m sure and that’s reassuring too. Team selection can be tinkered with you know, with injury or form, but I think he knows the best side and the one that can go and win the World Cup. And that helps players relax too. Once those boxes are ticked, the whole team generally plays well.’
In the Springboks’ recent turnaround a number of stalwarts returned to their best form, but new players are also being given licence to play their natural game.
Burger has taken an interest in the rise of scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies, 23.
‘Herschel is just young and going for it. That’s the great thing about youth. I can tell you now, when I was young and coming on to the scene, I didn’t think about what I was doing … I got the ball in my hands and ran as fast as I could. When you’re young it’s just a blur.
‘You need to keep someone like Herschel instinctive. Right now, he’s the same as the best when they burst on to the scene. He gets the ball in his hands and he does the right thing. In a few years and if some technical issues creep in or tactical errors creep in, then talk to him. But I wouldn’t say anything to him now. It’s lovely to watch him, he just gets on to the park and goes for it.’
The Springboks face Argentina in a World Cup farewell match in Pretoria on Saturday.