From experience: Schalk Burger

Former Springbok flank Schalk Burger talks the Class of 2019, Rassie vs Allister and his future in the latest issue of SA Rugby Magazine.

What are you expecting from a World Cup hosted in Japan?

I think it is going to be phenomenal. I played in Japan for two years and it is not your stereotypical rugby country. Rugby is the second-biggest sport at university in Japan behind baseball. Obviously, it drops down when it comes to professional level. You cannot believe how passionate the supporters are. They have awesome facilities and public transport. The standout feature was food and drink. They have great whiskeys and beers and wonderful food, so it won’t be hard to have a good time.

Are the Boks ready for this tournament?

If you take the 23 who faced New Zealand in Wellington, that could be your best side. The All Blacks have got issues. They don’t seem to know who their first-choice 10 or 12 is, or their best loose-forward combination. Those things have allowed us to catch up. The one reservation I had before this year was whether we could perform consistently for three weeks in a row. The Rugby Championship has shown we can.

From your experiences in London, did you see any surprises in Eddie Jones’ England squad?

There are a few new players coming in. Eddie has always been consistent with his best XV but fluctuated a lot beyond that. They are going to be well prepared, though, that’s for sure. They have a different buildup to the Springboks, but they will be a difficult side to beat. They have very good game management and a strong pack of forwards. Whether they play the most attractive rugby is a different story. But they will be competitive and well drilled, and will work hard. This is by far the most open World Cup. It is quite hard to say who the semi-finalists will be. It is quite exciting and I can’t wait for it.

What has Rassie Erasmus done differently to produce better results than Allister Coetzee did with a similar group of players?

The only real difference I see is that there is a serious backbone to this side now. You don’t get the feeling that we are just going to roll over. That can be due to various factors. There is definitely a high work rate. If you look at the way we played against Argentina in Salta this year, we kicked and chased and worked hard off the ball. We competed in all facets of that game. That was possibly lacking in the previous two years, where we were playing as individuals. You would have a good carry but not a good cleanout at the ruck. But now you are seeing an average kick becoming a great decision due to the work rate of the players. That comes from a serious mindset change towards working for each other.

You recently brought an end to your career at Saracens. What makes the culture of the England club so unique?

I suppose it was all put in place by Brendan Venter. It is a South African culture, so it is something we as South Africans can relate to. Everyone is on the same level whether you are an academy kid or a 36-year-old veteran. Everyone has meals and drinks together. We’d go on some ridiculous team-building trips. On a day-to-day basis it is the most family-oriented club in the UK by a country mile. It is not easy doing it that way; Saracens have to work at it every year. For me, it was something I was used to and could relate to. It was easy to slot in and just play rugby. The main thing is there was a direct line from the chairman to the academy players. Everyone has good communication with each other.
It makes things a lot easier.

Have you made any decisions about your future?

I am on a sabbatical. It is great to be back in the country. My kids are at new schools and we have moved into a new house. I have not got too much going on at the moment.