Namibia

Burger is hungry for success

Mon, 12 Sep 2011 00:00
2502-5561-5818-0_2621852

Namibian captain Jacques Burger has a dream of farming full-time when his rugby career is over, but first the all-action flank has his sights set on helping his team secure their first-ever World Cup win.

The 14,000 acres Burger owns in remote Stampriet is covered by red dunes and crossed by the odd lion, leopard and sheep-eating crocodile. Burger bought the land from his father-in-law, who still lives nearby, and Namibia's talismanic skipper said the property was a dream come true.

"I've wanted to be a farmer since I was five years old," Burger said.

While he was born and raised in the city of Windhoek, as he put it, "all of Namibia is a farm".

The land he eventually wants to fill with sheep and cattle is Burger's plan for the end of his rugby-playing days.

"I wouldn't call myself a farmer yet, but I'm learning," he said.

He's in no rush to retire, not when he's in the form of his life, and trying to help Namibia end its World Cup winless streak.

"To win would be absolutely amazing," he said.

He's doing all he can. Fearless almost to a fault, Burger mows down ball-carriers at the knees with machine-gun regularity. He led all tacklers last Saturday in the World Cup opening loss to Fiji, with a dozen, and rare is the game he doesn't hit double figures in the tackle count.

That blatant disregard for his body has given him a misshapen nose from being broken so often but Burger jokes that his wife, Lehanie, still thinks he's good-looking, so he's in no hurry for a haircut or surgery.

Asked how he rated Burger against all other current flanks, Namibia coach Johan Diergaardt said "he's tops." That brought a thank-you tap on the shoulder from Burger, who was sitting next to him.

"He's a legend in Namibia," Diergaardt added. "We appreciate him."

Burger used to play for South Africa's Griquas but his performances in the 2007 World Cup earned him a better contract with Blue Bulls. He moved to England's Saracens at Christmas 2009 but didn't play until February, and quickly sewed up a starting spot. Saracens reached their maiden Premiership Final that year - 2010 - then returned to it this year and won the league for the first time.

Even though he missed more than a month last season with a knee injury, Burger was voted by the Saracens' players as their best last season. He told the audience rugby suits him perfectly.

"When I go out onto the pitch, a switch clicks," he said. "I love the physical side of the game. It is part of my anatomy, part of the way I was brought up."

The 28-year-old Burger never thought that, by now, he'd still be waiting for Namibia's first World Cup win or another major professional in the team. Only four in the squad play overseas. Which was why he admired the die-hard effort of his largely amateur side against Fiji.

"They are good players. But sometimes I get the feeling they don't know how good they are," Burger said.

"These guys who work 8 to 5 then go to training, I take my hat off to them," he added. "I have a lot of respect for them for that."

The respect goes both ways.

SAPA-AP

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