Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, former Namibia international JACQUES BURGER talks about the refereeing inconsistencies at the World Cup, the Namibia versus South Africa Test and braaing for Billy Connolly.
Sport24 asked: Do you see Namibia living with South Africa on Saturday?
Jacques Burger: I think the third Test match between the African neighbours is going to be tough for Namibia because the Springboks will be in the zone, having just come off a defeat in their opening pool fixture. South Africa boast a very strong squad and, while they weren’t unlucky against the All Blacks, a few refereeing decisions went against them. A new-look Springbok team showing 13 changes will play against Namibia at City of Toyota Stadium on Saturday. A number of players are going to look to put up their hands with the intention of playing in the big games going forward. The main thing from a Namibian point of view is to walk away from the Bok game with some positives, learn and look forward to the next game. If the Springboks fire on all cylinders it could be a big score-line. In 2007, I played against South Africa at Newlands in a World Cup warm-up match and the hosts put 105 points past us. At that stage, it didn’t matter how hard we tried because they were just out of our league. They were too good for us and we didn’t have any answers for them. The Springbok class of 2019 possess a similar squad strength-wise and, by contrast, Namibia have an inexperienced side. To be honest, Namibia is a little bit out of their depth because we are a very modest rugby nation. But hopefully we can see some pride from the boys and they follow the systems put in place.
Sport24 asked: Your take on the new-look Springbok backrow triumvirate?
Jacques Burger: The combination of Schalk Brits, Kwagga Smith and Francois Louw is a dangerous backrow and they can wreak havoc if they get a lot of ball, which they should against Namibia in their second pool fixture. It’s a good choice to pick Schalk Brits at No 8. Schalla is an amazing talent and you can play him anywhere really on the pitch and he will do the job for you. When he takes to the field, he is somebody who gives everything out there. When we were at Saracens together, he used to be in the backfield very often for kick returns because when he gets ball in hand and there is time and space, he is extremely dangerous. Whether he is attacking or defending, he will never let you down. He also possesses leadership skills and will lead from the front. Off the field, his main attribute is that he is just a great human being. He makes time for everyone, which is a quality of a good leader. Meanwhile, throughout the Super Rugby tournament Smith was all over the field and when the games open up, it suits him well. When it comes to Louw, is very effective over the ball. When the game opens up, I’m not too sure if that’s his type of game but I think the Boks will have enough freedom to do some good stuff. I feel it’s a good strategy from Rassie Erasmus to look to up the tempo because for the lesser nations as some people call them – the tier-three nations – the intensity tends to get too much for them. You can stay in games for small parts but eventually the really good sides like South Africa will outwork you and it’s too much for the smaller sides to handle.
Sport24 asked: Your view on the standard of World Cup refereeing so far?
Jacques Burger: I have been surprised by the (below-par) standard of refereeing and how a lot of players are getting away with so much. The way World Rugby says they are going to implement the rules and the way they are refereeing it is inconsistent. I think that is the frustrating part and a number of people are getting away with some serious infringements. World Rugby needs to be strict on the officials and make sure that they don’t step out of line and miss some big calls. We all make mistakes, as we are only human, but the reality is that there is a lot at stake at the World Cup. The fact that four of the 12 World Cup referees are Frenchmen is not ideal for South Africa. The South African public are not too happy with the way things have gone with them in the past. Four World Cup referees from one country is a lot but I wouldn’t say any of them make mistakes on purpose – some of them might not be in the best of form. They were some good referees who could have been taken to the World Cup but didn’t get selected. It comes down to World Rugby’s selection policy. I feel there is a very fine line between allowing the game to flow freely and then penalising teams for being ill-disciplined. It’s a good thing to let the boys play and enjoy the advantage but they have to ensure that they don’t miss small penalties that will eventually build momentum and get you a win.
Sport24 asked: What was your approach to Rugby World Cup captaincy?
Jacques Burger: Overseeing a World Cup campaign as a captain is tough and the main thing is not to say too much. At times, words are of value and they are good to inspire guys. However, the main thing is to go out there and play. As a captain, you need to lead from the front, work the hardest and be an example your teammates can follow. That is the best way to go about it... I think Siya Kolisi is the right choice for the Springbok captaincy. People tend to forget he has come through a tough season injury-wise and struggled somewhat to regain his form. His return to the national set-up was just before the World Cup, which was not easy. As a player and leader of men injuries test you – both mentally and physically – and you have to get back from those setbacks, which takes time. As a leader, Kolisi plays hard and gives his best. Moreover, as the first black captain it’s good for the country and nation-building. Kolisi is an incredible player. He is very physical, is liked by all his teammates and has the respect of the entire nation. In my opinion, he’s the perfect man for the job.
Sport24 asked: Would you encourage your son to take up the game?
Jacques Burger: I have a little boy and of course I want him to play rugby but also be safe. It’s about working on your technique from a young age, which is quite important, rather than not going hard. The body is quite sore these days as most retired players would tell you. I have had nine surgeries on my right knee, three shoulder surgeries and have broken my cheek bone twice. However, I would definitely like to see my boy out there one day playing rugby with his mates. The concept of camaraderie is what the game is all about. I love the game and would have done everything to stay involved if I had the choice again. It is a massive honour playing for your country and captaining them at the World Cup is very special. I was thankful for my innings and wouldn’t change it for anything. I retired four years ago and the game has already changed a lot. There were numerous aspects that weren’t illegal when I played not that long ago. When I played there was an edge to the game and you forced your superiority by being physical. Sometimes you would do so illegally just to gain that physical dominance and get in the opponents head – it was the mental game. But now, the rules are going in the right direction and I understand the increased focus relating to player safety.
Sport24 asked: Do you see yourself heading into the coaching realm?
Jacques Burger: There may be some coaching in my future. I know Tondi (Tonderai Chavhanga) very well having played with him at Free State junior level. He is an incredible guy and it’s great to see he has started to coach his home country as an assistant with the Zimbabwean national team. The vision for me is the same. I would like to be involved in a way with the Namibian national team. It’s just a matter of having the right personnel around me because I won’t take on a coaching position if I don’t. I would like to be involved within Namibian rugby and try to see if we can push for higher achievements, bigger Test matches and better players. In order to become an improved rugby nation, development is critical. Development is a big area they need to tap into because it’s lacking. We want to be competitive and see big Test matches in Namibia. That is not what we are witnessing at the moment and, if that trend continues, I’m afraid I wouldn’t want to be involved in the set-up.
Sport24 asked: Three dream dinner guests, who’d they be and why?
Jacques Burger: I would invite Petrus du Plessis, a former Saracens teammate of mine, who could keep the chat going and help with the braai. I would also invite Billy Connolly to provide some stand-up comedy for the evening. He would bring Scottish banter and he looks like a good drinker as well! I would like to meet Roger Federer and his presence would add to the party. He is a tennis legend and is a great example owing to the type of human being he is. The respect people have for him is immense. On the braai, a rib of lamb would be on the go as it’s probably my favourite and, in terms of the soundtrack, I would have Afrikaans music as well as 80s classics and 90s rock and pop playing.