Burden’s patience pays off as Sharks hooker finally gets Boks call

2012-08-20 00:00

SIX years of persistence, patience and loyalty were finally rewarded yesterday when Sharks hooker Craig Burden was included in the Springbok squad which flew to Buenos Aires yesterday.

Burden helped the Sharks down the Lions 30-14 in the Currie Cup game at King’s Park on Saturday night, but he had been on official Springbok stand-by.

He was rushed into the international squad after his Sharks team-mate, Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis, was cruelly struck down by a serious injury to his right knee just four minutes into Saturday evening’s Rugby Championship opener against Argentina at Newlands.

Du Plessis was stretchered off the field and taken for scans during the Test, won 27-6 by the Springboks.

It later emerged that Du Plessis, widely regarded as the leading hooker in world rugby, had damaged his medial and anterior cruciate ligaments. He will undergo surgery and is expected to be sidelined for at least six months, missing the start of next year’s Super Rugby competition. The injury to the combative Du Plessis was almost inevitable. Playing high intensity rugby, week in and out from February through to November, has to take its toll and Du Plessis joins a long list of Springboks on the sidelines.

Du Plessis, a committed, involved player makes and takes hundreds of tackles in a season, but, ironically, his injury on Saturday came when he was least expecting it, as he was taken out, falling awkwardly, while running a dummy line and without the ball.

Du Plessis will be bitterly disappointed to have his year cut short so soon after finally taking over from former Test captain John Smit as the Boks’ number one hooker.

Recognition for Burden, though, is thoroughly deserved. For years he has played in the shadow of Smit and Du Plessis, warming the Sharks bench for countless games and only playing regularly in the Currie Cup when the Springboks were away. He has been philosophical about his lot, pointing out that he had the best teacher (John Smit) in the world as he went about learning his new trade.

The 26-year-old played wing and centre while at Maritzburg College, but Sharks coach Dick Muir persuaded him to switch to hooker in 2006.

Immensely strong — his Sharks team-mates gleefully report that he can bench press 190 kg (whatever that means) — and fast, he has become an alert and dangerous runner in broken play.

He is travelling to Argentina as the third hooker in the squad (behind Adriaan Strauss and Tiaan Liebenberg), but it would be no surprise to find him on the bench in Saturday’s Test in Mendoza. His pace, vigour and opportunism make him the ideal impact player.

The Boks can travel with only 26 players and the five have been added to the 21 who came through the Newlands Test unscathed. They are Liebenberg and Burden (hookers), Dean Greyling (prop), Juandré Kruger (lock) and Jano Vermaak (scrumhalf).

“We could only finalise the touring squad after the Test against Argentina as we wanted to first assess the injury situation,” said Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.

“It’s never nice to leave players behind [Siya Kolisi, Juan de Jongh and Elton Jantjies], but we’re only permitted to travel with 26 players."

The Bok coach said he was “satisfied” with the win at Newlands and his forecast that we would see Morné Steyn bounce back and answer his critics proved entirely accurate.

“We played well at times and although it is a pity that we did not get the bonus point, I am pleased. The players gave it their all and I cannot ask for more. Morné Steyn responded the way I expected of him. He worked hard and was rewarded.”

Springbok captain Jean de Villiers echoed his coach.

“Morné did not deserve the flak he was getting, but he proved those critics wrong with a very good display. He reacts positively to criticism.”

De Villiers said Argentina had made a point, even in defeat. “They are very hard to break down and proved that they can play at this level. They will certainly be a factor in the tournament,” De Villiers said.

The 26-man Springbok squad to Argentina:

Forwards (15): Willem Alberts, Andries Bekker, Craig Burden, Pat Cilliers, Marcell Coetzee, Keegan Daniel, Jannie du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth, Dean Greyling, Juandré Kruger, Tiaan Liebenberg, Tendai Mtawarira, Jacques Potgieter, Adriaan Strauss, Flip van der Merwe

Backs (11): Jean de Villiers (captain), JJ Engelbrecht, Bryan Habana, Francois Hougaard, Zane Kirchner, Patrick Lambie, Lwazi Mvovo, Ruan Pienaar, Frans Steyn, Morné Steyn, Jano Vermaak.

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