A 'matter of time' for Schalk
A 'matter of time' for SchalkSHARE
Schalk Burger is 'quietly confident' of returning to rugby once he has completed his rehabilitation from bacterial meningitis.
The star Springbok flank, who was South Africa's player of the year in 2004 and 2011, has been out of action since February 2012, but could make a return to the playing field this year.
A knee injury sidelined him for the whole of last year, and a pre-season calf strain this year set in motion a sequence of events which led to him ending up in a critical state in intensive care.
Initial tests revealed a cyst near his spinal chord in his back, and when he went in for surgery to drain the cyst he contracted a bug which resulted in bacterial meningitis.
Having been through an intensive recovery period Burger is now back on his feet and has started to recuperate from the meningitis by doing some light exercise.
"All-in-all I was in hospital for six weeks, and then eight weeks indoors and I have been outdoors for a couple of days now. At the moment my rehab consists of cycling and walking. In seven weeks time I am seeing my specialist again when I will enter the next phase of my rehabilitation," he revealed.
Burger, who is approaching his 30th birthday, said that although it is a potentially lengthy road to full fitness ahead of him, he is hoping to return before the end of the year.
"I am quietly confident of playing rugby again this year, but I can't give a clear indication until that time arrives.
"At the moment I am still in a recuperation phase, because obviously I was very ill, but it is just a matter of time now.
"You don't want to over-commit yourself to it, in seven weeks from now I have got another check-up and then we will enter the next phase of rehabilitation.
"So I am not going to stand here and say 'yes it is a definite', but obviously that is what I am aiming for," he explained.
Although he has been sidelined for some time, this will not be the first time that Burger has returned from serious injury, and he is hopeful that he is able to end his career on his own terms having done very little since the last World Cup.
"I am recovering very nicely and obviously I have got a love for rugby and I would like to play for as long as possible, but I had a serious injury so I will have to take it accordingly.
"I have come back from a couple of big disappointments before, so hopefully I can do it again this time. For the last two years I haven't done much, so call me 28 and a bit," he joked.
The experienced flank said that although he has been able to spend more time with his young family the time on the sidelines has been incredibly frustrating, and added that he understands now why coaches can get 'so uptight'.
"I have obviously had phenomenal family time with my wife and the little one. So there is always a positive, but at the end of the day I want to play some rugby man.
"I don't think there are words to describe how frustrating it is. Obviously if you play rugby that is what you want to do, and when you dn't play that is the most frustrating part.
"Any player will say that they love rugby and they hate the injuries and rehabilitation part of it. I have been doing that part now for a year and three months so it needs to end now.
"Hopefully my bad run is done now and I can finish off my career on a bit of a high," he added.
Western Province rugby CEO Rob Wagner said that he expects Burger to see out his current contract with the union which runs until the end of 2014.
By Michael de Vries