Springboks

Burger at No 8 for Boks?

Schalk Burger (Gallo Images)
Schalk Burger (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Plenty of blindside flank options, not quite as many at No 8 ... don’t be too surprised if the situation prompts Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer to dabble in the next few weeks with veteran Schalk Burger in that slot.

There can be little doubt that Duane Vermeulen remains the rightful first choice for South Africa in the position, not only after his influential Test performances in 2013 but also as he seems to have found an extra Super Rugby gear in recent weeks - a situation that has not insignificantly coincided with the Stormers’ improved fortunes.

Vermeulen has carried a taxing personal load in the competition this year, given the abject tally of injury casualties all around him, and often had to play a pretty conservative, defensive role as the franchise were inevitably forced onto the back foot against certain teams given the vulnerability of various rookies hastily injected to the mix.

But with a more up-tempo and adventurous Stormers game-plan that is seeing some fruit, the big unit has come back into his own as an attacking ball-carrier, too.

It is doubtful whether Vermeulen will be subjected to the full 80 minutes against the World XV at Newlands on Saturday, given the more cut-throat demands a week later of the first Test against Wales, so if Burger has managed the fitness nod after his recent neck problems, he could well earn a place on the bench and get some second-half exposure to the No 8 duty.

This became apparent when Sport24 engaged with Meyer earlier this week.

“Blindside flank is such a physical, big ball-carrying position,” he reminded.

“Willem Alberts so fits those requirements, but with the (unusually punishing bodily demands) involved there I am always looking at the back-up situation at seven.

“Schalk is getting there again ... but I believe his best position could possibly now be eight.

“Pieter-Steph (du Toit) is another who is capable of playing No 7, but he is out for the season, and in the present squad we also have other guys who can play there like (new cap) Oupa Mohoje.”

Conspicuously less well-stocked, however, is the current No 8 cupboard, especially with an old Meyer favourite, Pierre Spies, also a long-term injury casualty.

Alberts has had some matches at No 8 for the Sharks of late - including in the defeat to the Stormers last weekend - although Meyer may well prescribe to the theory that he is better suited to the more rugged demands of blindside and lacks a little in dynamism and routine pace for the eight role.

It is here that Burger, who has added some subtle, clever hand skills to his already formidable repertoire over the last few months, offers attractive possibilities after last getting bits of exposure to the position in the Jake White World Cup 2007 heyday period as Bok coach.

Meyer may also be very mindful of the fact that Burger, with his no-frills and highly energetic style, has taken quite a serious bodily pounding over the years, is increasingly susceptible to niggles and might revel in the slightly more “roaming” needs of No 8 play rather than being caught up too much in the constant bone-rattling that goes with the blind-sider chore.

It can hardly be doubted that Burger, who this week signed terms with a Japanese club - perhaps in another concession that he needs to slightly remodel his game and agenda for preservation purposes - has a great feel for loose forward play as a whole; he has also been a standout open-sider on many occasions.

Additionally, he indicated quite enthusiastically to this writer at a pre-season Stormers camp that he was quite happy to be considered a loosie “libero” of sorts, going forward.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
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