Schalk Burger has often been called the “Incredible Schalk”. Now Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham has compared him to Michael Jordan.
“He’s getting back to his best. A lot of the Stormers’ play revolves around him,” Larkham told the Canberra Times this week ahead of Saturday’s clash against the Stormers. “There’s no doubt this weekend he’ll be back at his top. He’s one of those players similar to Michael Jordan in that he gives the guys around him confidence. Particularly when he’s playing well.”
The unassuming Burger, who turns 31 next month, may not like to think that he’s the Michael Jordan of rugby, although he certainly enjoys a status as one of the revered figures in the modern game. And having had to fight back from injury and illness, that at one stage even threatened his life, over the last two years makes his comeback this year all the more remarkable.
Burger produced a busy performance against the Crusaders in the first Stormers tour game nearly two weeks ago, throwing his body around and setting up Damian de Allende’s try with a lovely offload to Jean de Villiers.
But he understandably still has some way to go to be close to the form he showed in the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Last week’s high-tempo affair against the Chiefs, where the defending champions’ speed and skill was sublime, saw Burger stretched in trying to keep up with the pace.
Perhaps getting gametime off the bench would’ve been a better way of building him up in his return to rugby. But Burger is satisfied with his progress.
When asked yesterday ahead of Saturday’s game whether he was back to his best form, he said: “I definitely think I’m getting close to it. The Crusaders was a game that suited all of us as they engaged with us, and therefore our stats were through the roof. The Chiefs were quite clever and boxed smartly, and tried to go around us instead of through us.
“The more I play, the better I will get. I’m happy with where I’m at, but it would be a lot nicer if you can put in a big performance and get a victory. If the team plays well, it tends to give you that extra one or two gears as well.”
The Stormers have been playing in fits and starts and lost three out of four matches. But Burger feels better things are on the horizon for the Stormers.
“We are feeling a bit of pressure, as we have two losses in New Zealand. Hard graft has gone into this week, and the idea is to turn our season around and get a victory in Canberra. It’s not easily done, so we are all aware that it is going to take a monumental effort,” he said.
“I’m enjoying the tour, even though results haven’t gone our way. It’s nice to be in Australia, as in Christchurch, we had the worst weather there in 100 years. We are staying in Coogee now, which is similar to Cape Town and Camps Bay, if you will.
“Hopefully this little bit of beach and sun we’ve taken in can spur us on to do some spectacular things at the weekend.”
Meanwhile, Stormers coach Allister Coetzee has ramped up the heat on the Brumbies and their breakdown tactics, saying the Australian side “don’t care” if they go off their feet and concede penalties.
And he is hoping referee Glen Jackson will be able to make “big calls” in that regard on Saturday. The Brumbies surprised the Waratahs with the way they smashed into the rucks in a 28-23 win last week.
Now Coetzee doesn’t want his team to be caught off-guard. “If you look at the side that have conceded the most penalties, it’s the Brumbies. Whether they go off their feet and concede a penalty, they don’t care. But they flood that ruck. And because that’s a fact, the ref will see that picture maybe 10 times and probably penalise them two times, so they will get away with it around eight times, that kind of thing,” Coetzee said yesterday.
“I just hope that the ref is going to be consistent and if he sees the same picture over and over, he must penalise the team until the pattern changes, or resort to harsher measures. I know Glen is a quality ref and he makes big calls, so that’s what I am looking forward to seeing.”
As expected, Gio Aplon moves to fullback in place of the injured Jaco Taute, which creates an opening for Sailosi Tagicakibau to make his first start at left wing. Peter Grant takes over at No 10 from Demetri Catrakilis, while lock Michael Rhodes is back from a shoulder problem to take over from the injured De Kock Steenkamp.
Brok Harris can count himself unlucky to have to make way for fit-again Frans Malherbe at tighthead after delivering a strong performance against the Chiefs, and the same can be said of Nizaam Carr, who remains on the bench despite making a big impact against the Crusaders and Chiefs.
15 Gio Aplon, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 Michael Rhodes, 4 Ruan Botha, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff. Bench: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Brok Harris, 19 Siya Kolisi, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Demetri Catrakilis, 23 Juan de Jongh. - Cape Times