Not only will Schalk Burger be ready for the Stormers’ Super Rugby season-opener against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld in February next year, he may lead the team onto the field.
“Schalk Burger will be running from the seventh of January,” Stormers coach Allister Coetzee told reporters at Newlands yesterday.
The match in Pretoria will take place three days before the one-year anniversary of the serious knee injury that brought a premature end to Burger’s 2011 campaign.
The 68-cap Springbok flanker had to undergo a second operation to repair the injured ligaments after the first procedure apparently failed to spot and remove a loose bone fragment.
Coetzee dispelled rumours that Burger’s playing career might be over and the coach went so far as to hint that the veteran may replace incumbent skipper Jean de Villiers.
“I already had a planning session with Schalk,” said Coetzee. “Obviously Jean wasn’t there [he was on Springbok duty in Europe]. I’d like to still speak to both of them and the management team and then make my decision. I had him part of our planning already – he’s part of the leadership team and he’ll always be there.”
There’s no such good news for centre Marcel Brache, who will spend “another five to six months” recovering from neck surgery. Brache is one of only three players who will definitely not be ready for training in January, with hooker Tiaan Liebenberg (back) and prop Deon Carstens (neck) only expected to return in the middle of February.
Of the new signings, lock Ruan Botha and blindside flanker Michael Rhodes are already in the city while the balance – prop Pat Cilliers, flyhalf Elton Jantjies and utility back Jaco Taute – will join up with the team in January.
Coetzee said Jantjies is “a special player” but that “what we need to look at is to make sure he fits into our culture”, while the coach believes that Taute is “a natural fullback”.
Some have viewed the arrival of Jantjies and Taute as a sign that the Stormers will cut loose in 2013, but Coetzee is determined not to tamper too much with his winning recipe.
“When you finish top of the log, it’s not much that you have to do different,” he said. “You have to do things differently, but not different things. We made a few changes in the Currie Cup and what was good for us we’ll keep.
“There won’t be a lot of different things. There’s no need to change it, we’ve done well throughout Super Rugby, but we have tweaked a few things.”
Coetzee welcomed the depth as being a key factor for next year and also confirmed that he has finally warmed up to the idea of adopting a rotation policy.
The Stormers are scheduled to play two warm-up matches, over the first and second weekends of February. An away match against Boland will constitute one of these while the second opponent has yet to be confirmed.