Jan 04, 2016
Five things to know about Schalk Burger
With Saracens announcing the signing of Springbok legend Schalk Burger for the beginning of the 2016/17 season fans are already excited with the prospect of seeing the world class back row forward pull on the black jersey at Allianz Park.
Here we look at five things Sarries fans need to know about their new recruit for next season
1. Highly decorated Springbok
The sight of Schalk Burger in the famous green Springbok jersey has been one that has dominated South African rugby for the majority of the 21st century. Since his debut for the Boks against Georgia in Sydney during the 2003 Rugby World Cup, the blond haired loose forward has gone on to win 86 caps for his country, and has a pretty impressive international CV:
- World Cup winner (2007)
- Has played in the Rugby World Cup four times (2003, 2007, 2011, 2015)
- SA Rugby Player of the Year (2004 & 2011)
- Young SA Rugby Player of the Year nominee (2003 & 2004)
- IRB Player of the Year (2004)
- Holds the record for the most Test tries by a Springbok flanker (14)
- Springbok captain no. 55 in history.
2. It’s in the genes
Burger is one of a handful of second-generation Springboks. His father, also called Schalk Burger, was an international lock, being capped for South Africa during the “isolation years” of the 1980s.
Schalk Snr played in the Springbok second row from 1984-1986, making six appearances, with the 18-19 loss to the New Zealand Cavaliers his only defeat in the Green and Gold.
There are only nine Father and sons who have both played for the Boks. Schalk Burger snr and Schalk Burger junior join the likes of Flippie and Flip van der Merwe and Hennie and Andries Bekker, Gysie Pienaar and Ruan Piennar, Moaner van Heerden and former Saracens flank Wikus van Heerden, Louis Schmidt and Uli Schmidt, Felix du Plessis and Saracens Director Morné du Plessis, Mauritz van den Derg and Derek van den Berg and Alf and Harry Walker.
3. Familiar faces
Schalk Burger will have plenty of familiar faces who will be welcoming him at Saracens. Of the current Saracens squad, Schalk has played alongside scrumhalf Neil De Kock (Stormers, Western Province and South Africa), hooker Schalk Brits (Stormers, Western Province and South Africa) and most recently, fellow back row destroyer Michael Rhodes at the Stormers. Burger has also been in the same Springboks squad as Saracens club captain, Alistair Hargreaves.
Schalk Brits on his old friend, Schalk Burger: “I have known Schalk since our schooldays and he never ceases to amaze me. The character of the guy, given how much he has gone through is really amazing and it tells you volumes about him as a person. He is one of the most chilled people you could ever want to meet off the pitch but when he crosses the whitewash that all changes and he becomes an awesome player."
4. The man’s a fighter
Burger is a tough man (must be the name) and is well known for his abrasive and aggressive style of play. A powerful and uncompromising loose forward, Burger’s battles on the pitch have won him many plaudits, yet it was a battle off the pitch that would threaten not only his rugby career, but his life. Burger would have to tap into all of his never say die attitude on that made him such a star on the pitch to see him through the months of ongoing health complications, starting in early 2013.
After genuine fears for his life, with his family by his side, Burger fought back from bacterial meningitis to play rugby again. 15 months after his recovery, he was man-of-the-match against England at Twickenham, scoring a try and throwing himself into ruck, tackle and maul with the same commitment and physicality of old.
He won the 2015 Laureus Comeback of the Year award for his inspirational return to health.
5. The ‘smiling assassin’ still at the top his game
You just can’t keep a good man down, and Schalk Burger is the embodiment of that. At the age of 32 the flank forward is playing some of the finest rugby of his career, and was one of five players nominated for the 2015 South African Player of the Year Award.
His performance in the recent Rugby World Cup were superb. In an attritional quarter-final win over Wales, Burger was the star for South Africa. The powerful loose-forward carried the ball forward on 26 occasions and was constant thorn in the side for Warren Gatland’s Welsh team.
Still performing, another constant for Burger is that throughout his career he has played the game with a beaming smile.
"He's always dying for a joke,” said his former Spirngbok coach, Heyneke Meyer during the 2015 Rugby World Cup. “Even before we go into battle he's still fully smiling and I think he's not ready and then when he goes on the field he's a different human being. You need that, you need characters in the team and he's one of them."