Contact is no problem for Schalk
Schalk Burger is worried about his conditioning after missing a crucial stage of the build-up to his Super Rugby comeback, but he says taking contact is not a particular concern to him.
The Springbok flank and Stormers captain was bracing himself for a busy finish to this week as he goes out to prove his readiness for a return to the field in next week’s Super Rugby opener against the Bulls at Loftus (Friday 22 February, 7:10pm).
He agrees that playing the Bulls will be a tough ask as his first game back since injuring himself against the Hurricanes at the start of the last Super Rugby season 12 months ago.
“Obviously it is a bit of a worry and it is not ideal as I would like to have had some game-time behind me before playing against the Bulls,” said Burger.
“At least I don’t have a serious injury at the moment. I have had a grade-one calf strain that has kept me out the last two weeks which was frustrating as it means I have lost out on an important part of my conditioning. So I am a bit off, conditioning wise. But at least my knee is fine. It will just add to my pre-match nerves. Instead of relaxing with a coke and water before the game maybe now I will have to drink a Red Bull.”
However the physical aspect of the big north/south derby, something that would scare many who have not played for a while, does not appear to concern Burger too much.
“I will obviously take a bit of contact next week in the build-up but right now conditioning is what I am concentrating on. I have three tough days ahead of me getting my conditioning right,” he said.
“Contact is the least of my worries. I did take contact earlier in the build-up, before my calf injury, so that’s not a barrier that still needs to be got through. I am confident I can take the hits. I just need to be fit enough to play 80 minutes. When you guys come to training next Tuesday you will hopefully see me getting stuck in.”
Burger still doesn’t sound 100% certain that he will be ready to play at Loftus. Talking to the media on Wednesday, he kept using the word “if” when talking about his contribution to the Pretoria clash.
However there can be no denying that he is eager to get going after a frustrating year on the sidelines.
“I am keen to play anywhere in the loose trio, I just want to get going and get out there and have some fun,” said the Stormers captain.
Western Province’s victory in the Currie Cup last year has also not diminished his hunger to do well for the Stormers. If anything, he feels it may have intensified it.
“Andries (Bekker), Jean (de Villiers) and myself have been in the Cape for a long time and we haven’t actually won a trophy yet. So we are determined to do that. It did feel a bit like we had won a trophy as we joined in the celebrations after the Currie Cup win, but we never played.
“Look, the big toffee these days when it comes to trophies is obviously Super Rugby and we know that will take some doing. We’ve come close in the last few seasons without quite getting there and we want to get that right this year. We are working hard towards achieving that objective.”
The Stormers face a tough start, with the Bulls match being followed by a trip to Durban to face the Sharks and then the first home game the following week is against the champion team, the Chiefs, who finished second to the Stormers on the overall log last year without the two sides having played each other.
Burger agrees that it could hardly be tougher as starts to the competitive season go, but he’s looking at it philosophically.
“We know that we are in a situation where if we don’t play well we could conceivably be played three and lost three as all those opponents are really tough, but that is the start we have and there is nothing we can do to change that. We’ve actually had a look at it and we’ve decided that we would rather play them now than in the last three games.
“We will try to improve with every game. Last year we were good defensively, but our attack was perhaps not up to par, and we want to try and get that right.
"The key though is not to look too far ahead. We know we have three tough games to start with and at this stage we are not looking further than that.
"We’ve got to get through these three games and the season is just so long now that you have to break it into pieces and not look too far ahead.”