Schalk Burger’s performance in Christchurch was the big winner for South African rugby, writes MARK KEOHANE.
Burger lasted 76 minutes before leaving the field, bleeding and bruised but definitely not beaten.
Burger’s comeback from a life-threatening illness a year ago continues to gain momentum. This was the match that would answer the Burger doubters because any visit to Christchurch doesn’t allow for a loose forward to physically go missing.
Burger made 16 tackles, the most in the match. De Kock Steenkamp made 15, and Crusaders openside flank Matt Todd was the best of the opposition with 14.
Burger made them with intensity and fronted every collision with a disregard for his safety. This is how Burger has always played.
Burger had the highest defensive work rate of the Stormers, with Deon Fourie (13) the only other player to get into double figures in the 122 tackles attempted. Only five were missed.
It was a match in which the flankers did the tackling and in which the flankers set the defensive tone. No 8s Kieran Read (six tackles) and Duane Vermeulen (four) played a secondary role in a match dominated by defence.
The Crusaders, without Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, are a mid-table team. Their attack again was too lateral and the Stormers, having reverted to the defensive structure of the past few seasons, easily handled the home team’s one-dimensional attack.
The Stormers, through the defensive effort, were the more deserving to get the win but sport doesn’t always reward the deserving.
The Crusaders had history on their side. They had beaten the Stormers in 12 of their last 14 meetings. They had also never lost to the Stormers in Christchurch.
And so it remains because of one point. Unfortunately for the losers, one point is all that is needed to turn delight to despair. And vice versa.
The Saders had lost their first two matches, against the Chiefs at home and against the Blues in Auckland. It really should have been three defeats from three starts on Saturday night in Christchurch. They are not the Saders of old. They are not the blokes who won seven titles. They are more the blokes who do well to get to the semi-finals and then lose.
Not so Burger. The Stormers may be a team in stagnation but Burger is a player who will never be second-best. He is every bit the menace who was crowned the world’s best player in 2004 and consistently has been among the best in the game.
The Stormers lost by a point in Christchurch but Burger’s performance made a more significant point in the context of Springbok and South African rugby.
Photo: Marty Melville/AFP Photo