TIME TO SAY GOODBYE 2019 - #2 Schalk Burger
August 15 2019
I think it is fair to say that when Schalk Burger joined Saracens in 2016, his arrival was not universally welcomed. He was 33 years of age with a somewhat chequered past and there were those who questioned whether he had just come to England to boost his pension, another Chris Jack maybe?
His disciplinary record was also the subject of some raised eyebrows. He received a 2 week ban for verbally abusing touch judge Willie Roos in 2008 during Stormers’ match against Sharks. Then in 2009, playing for the Springboks against the Lions, he received a yellow card and a subsequent 8 week ban for "making contact with the eye area" although a subsequent enquiry confirmed it “wasn't intentional”. He stands in joint second place with 6 for the most yellow cards received in international rugby. His injury record was also concerning. In June 2006 he suffered a serious neck injury against Scotland which put his career in doubt. He underwent a fusion of 2 cervical vertebrae and was away from rugby for 8 months. In 2013 he became seriously ill, contracting bacterial meningitis following surgery to remove a cyst from his spine. At one time it was feared he would die but after 6 weeks in hospital and several months’ recovery, he returned to the rugby pitch 18 months after his last appearance. In 2014 he suffered another neck injury which was probably a major factor in his move to Japanese side Suntory Sungoliath. Finally for Sarries’ fans, he was coming in to replace the legendary and much loved Jacques Burger so it wasn’t going to be an easy task for the big Springbok.
But we needn’t have worried and as always we should have put our trust in the coaching staff. Schalk bought in to the Saracens philosophy 100%. He was no Chris Jack – putting his aging body on the line more than once for his adopted team and mostly he managed to keep his nose clean during his 3 seasons in North London.
Schalk Willem Petrus Burger Jnr was born in Port Elizabeth on 13th April 1983. His father (also Schalk) played lock for South Africa during a time of International isolation. Young Schalk excelled at many sports at school but chose to follow his dad onto the rugby pitch. He started his career with Western Province and was a member of the South African side which won the U21 World Cup in 2002 before going on to captain them in 2003. He was selected for the senior side in the 2003 World Cup, making his debut against Georgia. The following year he played for Stormers and was an integral member of the Springbok team which won the tri-nations for the first time in 6 years. He was voted South Africa Player of the Year and IRB Player of the Year. He returned early in 2007 for the Stormers and was selected for the 2007 Springbok World Cup team. He was suspended for a couple of games early on in the tournament but returned to help his country defeat England in the 2007 World Cup Final. He continued to represent Stormers and the Springboks, playing in his 3rd World Cup campaign in 2011 and winning the Player of the Year Award that season for the 2nd time. Following injury, he eventually regained his place in the Springboks team and in 2015 won the Comeback of the Year Award at the Laureous Sports Awards. He represented his country at a 4th World Cup in 2015, playing in all of the Springboks games. He has won 86 test caps and scored 80 test points.
Schalk made his Saracens debut at the Double Header (against Worcester – it was one of those years). After a nervy first half, Sarries upped the tempo in the second half with Schalk scoring a trademark try receiving the ball 10m out and scoring under the posts with 3 Worcester-men hanging on to his shirt-tails. Schalk quickly made the number 7 shirt his own until injury kept him out of the team mid season. On his return, he shared the shirt with Kelly Brown before picking up another injury – returning in time for a cameo off the bench in the win over Munster in Dublin. He was on the bench for the Champions Cup win in Edinburgh and was one of the few still standing for the defeat to Exeter the following week but all in all a decent season.
With the retirement of Kelly Brown and Will Fraser at the end of the season, Schalk was in pole position for 2018. He picked up another injury in that strange game in Philadelphia returning a few weeks later to show his versatility to fill in at number 8 while Billy was on international duty. Mixed fortunes at the Ricoh brought a yellow card and a try but he was there when needed in the big win over Saints which saw Sarries through to another Euro quarter final. Once again the old boy gave his all in Dublin but Leinster that day were just too good for a depleted Saracens. Sadly a strained Hamstring in the final home game of the regular season denied Schalk a deserved appearance at Twickenham.
Schalk probably thought he might get a bit of an easier ride in his final season at Allianz but injuries to Billy and Mike Rhodes put paid to that and his services were a regular requirement earning him a place on the bench for the European quarter and semi finals. He came on for Billy right at the end of the European win over Leinster to earn another winner’s medal. He played his final home game against Exeter in May, leading out the team with his 2 sons. He was duly applauded by the Saracens faithful when the generations changed and he handed over the baton to young Sean Reffell. He continued making the big hits right to the end – I don’t think he knows how to play it any other way! His final, and 77th appearance for Saracens was at Worcester on the last day of the regular season With Billy, Maro, Isiekwe, Wray and Rhodes all fit he didn’t get a last hurrah at HQ which is a shame but there is no room for sentimentality in professional sport and McCall had to pick his best team which sadly by then didn’t include the old warrior. No doubt he was cheerleading from the stands as Sarries produced that remarkable come-back to defeat Exeter for the second year running.
The Burger family run a wine estate in Wellington South Africa. By all accounts they produce some fine wines with the Welbedacht, Proprietors and Meerkat ranges. There will yet be a 3rd generation of Schalk Burgers as his eldest son also bears the name.
But while we wait for that, Sarries have enjoyed some pretty meaty burgers over the last 10 years - quite something for the little “Happy Meal” to live up to!
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2019:09:09:20:38:58 by Darraghgirl.
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