Can Burger get back to his best?
Wed, 25 Sep 2013 15:47
He is a warrior
The spotlight will shine brightly and the expectations will be high, but don't expect Superman to appear on the field.
Veteran Springbok loose forward Schalk Burger will return to the playing field at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Friday - after 18 months of toil and trouble that saw him overcome knee surgery, a serious calf strain and bacterial meningitis.
It is that fighting spirit that made him such a special player, who won the IRB Player of the Year award in 2004 and overcame a neck fracture two years later.
However, the burning question remains: Just how quickly will the 30-year-old 68-Test veteran return to his best form, if at all?
It has been 18 very long months since Burger injured his knee in the opening game of the 2012 Super Rugby season, then had a calf problem at the start of 2013, needed surgery on a cyst on his spine and contracted bacterial meningitis while in the hospital. He then spent six weeks in the hospital and another eight weeks indoors during his recovery from the infection.
Western Province coach Allister Coetzee suggested Burger can be "an even better player than before" and Bok coach Heyneke Meyer said he "would consider him".
However, Burger will be "eased back" into action and his legions of fans should expect the big bruiser to take small steps back to the top of his game.
The Province mentor, Coetzee, warned against unrealistic expectations.
"Almost two years have passed and Schalk has gone through a lot [injury complications and illness]," Coetzee told a media briefing.
"He has come through training very well and his inclusion in the squad is part of his comeback process."
While Coetzee felt Burger would be able to cope with more that 20 minutes of action, he declined to commit to a specific time when the player will take to the field.
"We don't expect him to be at his best and merely having him around the players brings out his positive influence," the WP mentor said.
"It's just good to have him back and he'll feel like a new player when he comes on to play.
"The way he's been running at practice makes one think that he could be an even better player than what he's been in the past."
The Bok coach was also full of praise for a player who has had more than his share of stumbling blocks in and decade of first class rugby.
"It is great news for me," Meyer told the media in Cape Town - where he announced the team to take on Australia in a Rugby Championship Test at Newlands on Saturday.
"Firstly, as an individual Schalk is a great guy, he is a great player and like I said I am loyal to performance.
"We have got brilliant loose forwards in this country and the more the better.
"I also believe he is a great leader and there will be injuries going forward and at the World Cup you want to pick your best players so every guy is going to have the same opportunity.
"I think it is great for Western Province as well, because he is a leader and hopefully going forward he will take some pressure off Jean as well.
"He is a warrior - he has been very sick and came through that and his injuries and that is the type of player I like, so I will definitely look at him.
"Hopefully he can press for a place in the team, but in saying that I truly belive our loose forwards at the moment are really playing great rugby."
Province captain Deon Fourie also warned against unrealistic expectations in Burger's first match back.
"It is difficult to get straight back into the groove, but for the calibre and type of a player that Schalk is, I don't think it'll take him long.
"He's shown in the past that he always comes back stronger from injury and always performs better than he did in his last match. Psychologically he's ready and hungry and I'm looking forward to having him back on the field."
Fourie added that he will also lean on the leadership skills of the veteran.
"From a leadership perspective I couldn't have asked for anything better than to have Schalk back, especially at this vital stage of the competition - where you're playing for a home semifinal and Final.
"Even in training he brings an incredible aura to the team and lifts the morale of the squad."
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