Break motivates rejuvenated Schalk
Schalk Burger is determined to make up for a frustrating year sitting on the sidelines by delivering a fitting response to the many who questioned whether he would play again after the debilitating knee injury that put him out.
The Springbok flank, announced as the Stormers captain for the season at a press conference in Hermanus on Wednesday, is back in the thick of things after watching rugby from the stands since he was injured leading the franchise in their first game of the 2012 Super Rugby campaign.
That was 11 months ago, and Burger clearly believes it was 11 months too many to be out of the sport that he excels at.
“You do build up a bit of extra motivation when you are sitting on the sidelines for a year and watching everything unfold without being part of it,” said Burger.
“Regarding the captaincy, it’s not a big issue. We have a lot of leaders in the team and as a group we ensure we lead the team in the right direction. I just do the post-match interviews and deal with you guys, that sort of thing.”
There were whispers in the Cape towards the end of last year that Burger may not play again, and until he actually takes the field and leads the team in his trademark robust style, they may well persist.
Burger says he was made well aware of what was being said while he was sitting out, and it has added to his resolve to make this year a big one for him personally.
STANDING IN SUPERMARKET QUEUES
“When you are out of rugby you spend a lot of time standing in supermarket queues because that is what you do when you’re not playing. I had many people come up to me last year and ask me if I was still playing, whether I had retired from rugby.
"And yes, all those questions have added an additional spur for me to give it a big effort and make it clear I am definitely still playing.”
Super Rugby is a very different level to the domestic Currie Cup, but Burger was heartened by Western Province’s win over the Sharks in last year’s final.
“We had an 11-year drought, and 11 years is a long time to go without winning a trophy,” he said.
“We felt that in recent years we had put ourselves in positions to do it without quite rounding it off, and we tended to fall just short. So it was good to break through the mental barrier in the Currie Cup and get a trophy at last.
"I think that will do great things for our confidence going into this season. Obviously Super Rugby is a big competition and we would like to win it after challenging so well over the past three years.”
The Stormers have finished in the top two on the final log in every one of those three seasons but twice they got knocked out in the semifinal and once in the decider, by the Bulls at Orlando Stadium in 2010.
Burger feels the experience of previous years will count for something this year, or at least he hopes so, and he also feels there is greater depth that will help sustain the Stormers’ challenge.
“We have a couple of Lions players who have been added to the group and a lot of young players made their mark last year,” said the Stormers captain.
All the former Lions players – some are on short-term loan contracts and others have moved to the Cape permanently – were in attendance at Wednesday’s session in Hermanus, which is part of a week-long pre-season training camp.
The only player who did not participate was utility forward Michael Rhodes, but the former Lions and Sharks player was on the field absorbing the words of Stormers forward coach Matt Proudfoot.
Backline players Elton Jantjes and Jaco Taute were both introduced to the Cape media for one-on-ones afterwards, and they said they were pleased to be part of the Stormers vibe as the franchise approaches the new season.
The good news for Stormers fans is that Burger and the former Lions players were not the only additions to the group that won the Currie Cup last October.
Also back in attendance after missing out on the last stages of the Currie Cup were hooker Tiaan Liebenberg, lock Andries Bekker and loose-forwards Nizaam Carr and Rynhardt Elstadt.
The only injury problem faced by the Stormers a month out from the season concerns hooker Scarra Ntubeni, who is out for four weeks. Coach Allister Coetzee confirmed that the search for a back-up player continues.
“Tiaan (Liebenberg) is training again but hooker is a specialised position and we need back-up in that area so we are on the look-out,” said Coetzee.
The coach said the camp had been a success and the decision to go into it with just 37 players as opposed to the 50-odd of 2012 was paying off.
“We found out who the players who can play Super Rugby were during the Currie Cup so there was no need for a big group this year,” said Coetzee.