Schalk Burger produced his most compelling performance of the year to inspire the Stormers to victory against the Highlanders at Newlands, writes MARK KEOHANE.
Burger got 55 minutes against the New Zealanders but he did more in those 55 minutes than some loose forwards have done all season.
He was magnificent. He was colossal and he matched physicality with the softest of touches. If ever anyone needed a reminder of Burger’s value to South African and Springbok rugby, this was it.
Burger’s comeback from injury and bacterial meningitis (that nearly took his life after he spent two weeks in intensive care) is a story on its own. The quality of his performance, given the long road back to a rugby field, is phenomenal.
Burger and Richie McCaw, along with George Smith, rate as among the finest loose forwards to play the game. In the professional era there have been few better.
McCaw is a freak. Time and again he defies every opinion and delivers mastery. He did it again on Saturday in the Crusaders' win against the Brumbies. McCaw hadn’t played for two months, but he completed the 80 minutes and was the most industrious of the Crusaders players.
Burger is South Africa’s McCaw in terms of world standing and impact in matches.
He has that something special. Jake White always used to say he gives you the effort of two players and when he is really good he is the equal of three loose forwards.
Burger was the key to the Stormers' passion, fire and determination in the first half. He tackled aggressively, instilled calm in the chaos of the breakdown and offloaded with the precision of a world-class midfielder.
He caused destruction on defence and reveled in the adventurous attack based game plan of the Stormers.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said Burger would always be an asset to any Springbok squad, be it as a starting option or introduced from the bench. Meyer’s only concern was Burger’s ability to beat injury and illness.
He never doubted the player’s ability or his self-belief. Only time would tell if Burger’s body could stand the rigours of Super Rugby. Saturday gave everyone the answer.
Burger, if fit, is an asset to the Springboks. Burger, if he sidesteps long-term injury, provides depth to the World Cup squad.
Burger, when the mind, legs and arms are in agreement, is a monster.
He was the highlight for me at Newlands. The Stormers lost something when he left the field. There wasn’t the same urgency. There just wasn’t the same fearlessness and no loose forward on the field could match his work rate.
The Stormers won by a point but they should have won by 15, given their dominance at the breakdown and the ample ball they had.
They are a side low on confidence but when world-class playes like Burger and Jean de Villiers lead from the front the results are usually very favourable.
The success of any World Cup campaign is in the depth of a squad. Meyer will be smiling that Burger and Juan Smith (Toulon) are showing the form that made them world champion Springbok loose forwards in 2007.
Photo: Luke Walker/Gallo Images