Cape Town – Even though Schalk Burger made his much-anticipated comeback in September last year, the iconic Stormers flanker admits that he still has some way to go to get back to his best.
“I’m getting there,” said Burger, who missed the 2012 season with a knee injury and most of last year after contracting bacterial meningitis.
“Playing for the Barbarians (against Fiji in November) last year was really good for my self-confidence, getting through 80 minutes and putting in a reasonable performance was key.”
Burger, 30, burst onto the scene in 2003 and was named the 2004 IRB Player of the Year after a season of breathtaking performances that featured a relentless work rate and reckless physicality.
But the toll of his aggressive play started to catch up with Burger, and in 2006 he suffered what some thought was a career-ending neck injury. With little more than a year to go before the 2007 World Cup, Burger’s livelihood hung in the balance.
That experience gave the hulking forward some perspective: “Making contact one hundred times a game started to hurt and, after that big neck injury, I made a conscious decision to start using my skills more and I brought some distribution to my game.”
While the life-threatening bout of bacterial meningitis had nothing to do with Burger’s trademark style, it was a reminder that he is not invincible.
“An experience like that does affect the way you play the game, the dangerous part for me now is that you’re always going to be compared to how you played before a long-term injury,” he said.
“I’ve always played rugby in a reasonably confrontational way, and I don’t think I’ll lose that part of my game.
“In terms of physicality, it’s coming back, and so is my match sharpness. I got through 80 minutes in last week’s warm-up game against the Bulls in Polokwane and, if I keep on improving, somewhere during the season I’ll get into some decent form.
“The body is feeling good and the mind has always been keen, so let’s hope the body can keep up.”
After last week’s win against the Bulls, the Stormers were hoping to keep up the good work against the Kings in Port Elizabeth tonight, while centre Alwyn Hollenbach will lead the Lions out in their friendly against the Sharks at Ellis Park.
Both matches kick off at 7pm.