Schalk was magnificent

Schalk Burger made a massive impact as a substitute for the Springboks against the Wallabies, writes MARK KEOHANE.

Schalk Burger is a beast. What a pleasure to have been at Newlands on Saturday to view Burger’s incredible influence on the fortunes of the Springboks.

A little more than a year ago I wrote a magazine article detailing Burger’s comeback from injury and a life-threatening illness. I wrote that Burger was not returning to rugby to make money or to make up the numbers. He was returning to play for the Springboks. And to make a difference to the national team.

Heyneke Meyer had never worked with Burger. It was a similar situation to Jean de Villiers. Meyer had always coached against De Villiers and Burger. It was only when he worked with De Villiers did he fully appreciate the special qualities of the player and the human being.

Meyer told me it was as similar experience when working with Burger.

‘His humility is what I loved the most,’ said Meyer. ‘He was prepared to start at the back of the queue, to play whatever role I felt best-suited the needs of the team, and most crucially he was prepared to tutor and mentor younger players, even if they at that stage were ahead of him in the pecking order.

‘To watch him rekindle the form that made him the best player in the world would make any coach smile. But to see him continue to make the contributions he does, makes that smile even bigger.’

Burger, currently playing in Japan, only played the last 25 minutes, with Oupa Mohoje starting for the first time. To compare the two players is unfair on Mohoje and disregards Burger’s standing in world rugby.

Mohoje is playing his first season of professional rugby. Burger is into his 10th season, has done it all and, with the exception of a Super Rugby title, won everything and won everywhere.

He's as revered in world rugby as two of his fiercest loose-forward rivals in Richie McCaw and Australia’s George Smith. The three have provided us with the most intense battles over the last decade and there will be more to come at Ellis Park in a week’s time.

McCaw has lauded Burger’s rugby ability but speaks as highly of the man away from the rugby field.

Burger, at Newlands, provided the energy and the impact to lift the Boks' intensity and he was a non-stop presence in attack and on defence. He has matured his game on attack, his hands have a softness you would never associate with his approach to contact. He's as hard as he ever was and continues to hold nothing back in the collisions but he's so much more than a basher. He's a thinking man’s player and his best position in the final few years of his career will be at No 8, where he has the chance to express those finer attacking qualities.

Burger was magnificent at Newlands, the ground that has always been home to him. He comes from great family stock and his father, big Schalk, is one of the wonderful characters of the game.

Burger knows adversity, in rugby and in life, but he also knows good times, in rugby and in life.

And at Newlands on Saturday, he gave every South African supporter 25 minutes that ensured the rest of the weekend cannot be anything but a good time.

Photo: Luke Walker/Gallo Images