The Ultimate Springbok World Cup Final XV: Schalk one of the best Boks
Candidates: Francois Pienaar (1995), Schalk Burger (2007), Siya Kolisi (2019)
JACQUES VAN DER WESTHUYZEN
All three these men have achieved iconic status - and rightly so. And having to pick just one of them to wear the No 6 on his back is no easy task.
Francois Pienaar was immense as the leader in 1995. He was the glue that held the team together and his powerful lead-from-the-front style made him a favourite among the players. He was gutsy and inspirational.
Twelve years later Schalk Burger was the man who the Boks relied on to add zip and spark up front. Burger was never the stereotypical fetcher flank, who scavenged at the breakdowns, but he made a nuisance of himself at every ruck and maul and showed no respect for his own body as he flew into tackles. He made his presence known and was a menace on the rugby field.
In 2019, Kolisi overcame injury to lead the Boks to a famous win in Japan. He never quite hit top form, but he played a huge role as team leader and emerged after the tournament as a darling of world rugby. He’s become a Bok regular over the last few years and in Japan stood out as a key defender and strong ball-carrier. And who can forget the touching speeches he made throughout the Boks’ campaign.
All three men played massive roles in the Boks winning the World Cup … but, forced to pick one, I’m going with Burger, who beats the other two men for player-performance.
The blond-haired terrier, who showed from an early age he was going to be a world star, overcame a life-threatening illness to lead the Boks against the All Blacks in 2015. He played 86 Tests for the national team - including many at No 7 later in his career - and for me is one of the Boks’ greatest players.
Jacques’ choice: Schalk Burger
From the original hard man Ruben Kruger from 1995 to captain courageous Siya Kolisi in 2019, the Springboks have been well served at openside flank.
So, to choose the best of the lot from the likes of Kruger, Rassie Erasmus, Corné Krige, Schalk Burger, Francois Louw and Kolisi is a difficult call, but it is hard to ignore Burger’s immense contribution to the cause.
He actually made his World Cup (and Springbok) debut as a 20-year-old replacement No 8 in 2003 against Georgia, and earned two more caps as a substitute flank against Samoa and in the quarter-final against the All Blacks.
He shrugged off a serious neck injury to be fit for the 2007 tournament, but drama was to follow when he was cited for a high tackle in the opening win over Samoa, and suspended for four matches.
The ban was reduced to two on appeal, and Burger returned to the side as a No 8 against the United States, and opened the scoring in a 64-15 victory.
Having missed a crucial tackle on Fiji scrumhalf Mosese Rauluni, which led to Sireli Bobo’s try that made it 20-20 in the quarter-final, Burger made up for it somewhat by throwing his body around in defence in those crazy last 20 minutes, while also carrying the ball strongly off the back of the scrum as a No 8.
He proved that he also has some skill in the semi-final against Argentina when he delivered a superb try-scoring pass to Danie Rossouw.
The blond loose forward topped the tackles list with 55 at the end of the tournament, one more than teammate Juan Smith and French star Thierry Dusautoir – despite missing two matches due to suspension.
Burger never stopped trying in both the 2011 quarter-final loss and 2015 semi-final defeats – having come back from a life-threatening illness – but he bowed out of Test rugby with a bronze medal in London.
Ashfak’s Choice: Schalk Burger
Jeepers this is going to be a tough one ... Of the three No 6 flankers to play in Springbok World Cup finals, two are captains and the other is arguably the best loose forward ever to play for South Africa.
So we have Francois Pienaar, Siya Kolisi and Schalk Burger....
Pienaar and Kolisi were unbelievably inspirational captains. Could the Boks have won in 1995 without Pienaar’s commanding leadership? What about the incredible impact Kolisi had in binding not only the team, but later the nation when he held aloft the Webb Ellis Cup?
Burger played most of his rugby at No 7, but for the 2007 final in Paris, Jake White picked him at openside, with Juan Smith the No 7.
If I had to rank these three in playing ability, it would be Burger first, Kolisi second and Pienaar third.
So if I had to make a straight rugby choice it would be Burger but then you have to ask about the powerful leadership abilities of the other two.
Well maybe the captain of the Ultimate Bok World Cup team would be John Smit, and then that would free one up to pick Burger.
In fact, this is the route I am going to go. I am going to pick the best player and worry about the captaincy later!
Mike’s choice: Schalk Burger
Schalk Burger wins the battle of the hard men!
Ultimate Springbok World Cup Final XV (so far): 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Hennie le Roux. 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Joost van der Westhuizen, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Schalk Burger ...