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Burger completes miraculous comeback

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Schalk Burger during the Springbok training session at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth. Photo: Steve Haag

Port Elizabeth - One of South Africa's favourite sons will return to the Springbok starting line-up for Saturday's Test against Scotland, in Port Elizabeth, to complete one of the greatest Springbok comebacks.

A year ago, Schalk Burger was recovering from life-threatening bacterial meningitis and the thought of returning to the rugby field was far from his mind.

“I was in a bit of strife then so being back here you enjoy every moment. Once the Springbok jersey has been taken away from you, you realise how much you've missed it,” Burger said.

“I've been fortunate enough to work my way back up here and I am enjoying every single moment.”

Burger's has been on an arduous journey after he injured his knee in the opening match of the 2012 Super Rugby season.

He hurt his calf ahead of the start of the 2013 Super Rugby season and contracted the infection while in hospital after undergoing surgery on a nerve in his back.

Visibly thinner, Burger made his return to competitive rugby turning out for Western Province in a Currie Cup match against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last September.

He featured in the Currie Cup final before proving, in this year's Super Rugby season for the Stormers, that he still possessed an appetite and the ability to play at the highest level.

The 31-year-old would now make his Springbok return in the starting line-up on Saturday for the first time since the 2011Rugby World Cup.

The fiery flanker used to be known for his physicality and exhausting work rate but he had since added some creative touches with the ball.

Replacing the injured Willem Alberts, who had in recent years picked up the reputation of the bone collector, Burger could play a different role for the Boks.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said Burger's versatility made him an important asset to the team where he could play as a backup eighthman to Duane Vermeulen.

“The great thing about Schalk is he can play six, seven and eight. I still think eight is his best position going forward and Duane has been playing a lot of rugby there as well,” Meyer said.

“He is not a true ball carrier like Willem but he adds different things to the side - his last few games were awesome.

“He's got brilliant touches with the ball, almost like a flyhalf distributing, so I don't want him to play like Willem, I want him to play like Schalk.”

Meyer said Burger's leadership qualities were apparent in the Springboks' narrow victory over Wales last weekend where he motivated the players to stay calm when the chips were down.

On his return to the Springbok fold, Burger informed Meyer he would serve wherever the coach wanted to play him. And speaking of his preferred position earlier this week, the Springbok stalwart said he would slot in wherever he was needed.

“Obviously Willem has been immense for the Springboks in the number-seven jersey but the nice thing about having a lot of depth at loose forward is the diversity and I'll bring something different,” Burger said.

“Duane has been the incumbent number eight and he seems to be going well at the moment. There is no gap there but any position where I get my opportunity, I will take my chances.

“At a certain stage of your career, you are quite bullish about the position that you want to play, and rightly so because you have high ambitions, but I will take any position that opens up.”

Burger said South Africa would face a tough challenge against Scotland who had won their last three games against the US, Canada and Argentina.

“Scotland is a tough side and when you play a Test in South Africa, similar to Wales, the public demands not only a victory but a comfortable one,” Burger said.

“Scotland have gone three out of three on their end-of-year tour and they are coming here off high expectations. We've had a few disruptions this week so we'll have to pull together and put up an improved performance from the one last week against Wales.”

Meyer was forced to make wholesale changes to the team in the absence of seven players who had returned to their clubs in England and France.

Sapa


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