Craig Burden to earn his 50th Currie Cup cap

2011-07-28 00:00

IT is a measure of his loyalty and commitment to the Sharks jersey that third-choice hooker Craig Burden will earn his 50th Currie Cup against the Free State Cheetahs in Durban on Saturday.

Burden has spent the first five years of his career playing in the shadow of two world-class hookers — Springboks John Smit and Bismarck du Plessis — since making his Sharks debut in 2006.

But now his patience, the many hours the 26-year-old has spent on the training pitch and on the substitutes’ bench is finally being rewarded.

While he has played a big part in Super Rugby, largely being used off the reserve bench when injury has sidelined one of the two senior hookers, his role for the Sharks in the Currie Cup has been more significant.

With both Smit and Du Plessis spending much of the Currie Cup season with the Springboks, Burden has been a key player for the successful Sharks in recent seasons, helping them to titles in 2008 and 2010.

The Maritzburg College product started his Sharks career as a powerful wing in 2006, but coach Dick Muir saw him as a hooker in the making and sent him to New Zealand where he attended the Murray Mexted Academy.

Burden, conceding he lacked the genuine pace of a provincial wing, was enthusiastic about the switch.

“Rather be a fast hooker than a slow wing,” he said.

At 100 kg and with pace off the mark, he fills the role of a dynamic fourth loose forward to perfection, though he admits he had to spend many hours learning scrummaging techniques and brushing up on his lineout throwing.

And, of course, he could hardly have chosen a better finishing school than the one at King’s Park.

He had a succession of Springbok props — BJ Botha, Jannie du Plessis, Deon Carstens and Beast Mtawarira — hanging off both arms, while Smit and Du Plessis taught him about a career in hooking.

Burden is now looking forward to winning his 50th Currie Cup cap, but this week played down the achievement.

He said, “It’s a great honour to play 50 Currie Cup games for the Sharks, but it really is just a bonus.

“The focus is on beating the Cheetahs rather than any personal milestone.”

The Sharks are currently without their four most experienced front-rowers and Burden said that having more caps than his young props did bring some responsibility.

He said the impact of the young props Wiehahn Herbst, Dale Chadwick and Julian Redelinghuis, all just into their 20s, “has been fantastic”.

“Judging by their performances, you wouldn’t classify them as young props.

“Their energy and enthusiasm is right up there and I’m delighted to have them alongside me at each scrum,” he said.

Burden said the scrummaging effort against the Blue Bulls was “upfront and physical”.

“But as a pack we stepped off the notch against the Pumas. We allowed the Pumas to frustrate us. We know how important the scrums are going to be against the Cheetahs this weekend and there are one or two things we need to fix.”

He said the Cheetahs, led by former Sharks centre Andries Strauss, would play a direct style of rugby.

Burden said, “They have a few exciting players, so we know what to expect and we’re prepared for that.

“As a pack, we’re fully aware of the challenge and we know what we can bring to the party on Saturday.”

Burden might easily have followed the example of many others who have become frustrated and moved to the other provinces, or overseas clubs, when their way to the top has been blocked by senior players.

Instead he has persevered and now, with Smit having played his last game for the Sharks, he is finally working his way up the pecking order and he will be rewarded both at Currie Cup and Super Rugby level in the years ahead.

Saturday’s game at King’s Park kicks off at 3 pm.

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