Cape Town - Schalk Burger is a legend of Newlands, and he is desperate to end on a high in his final Super Rugby season for the Stormers.
The all-action loose forward made his Stormers debut back in 2004 under then-coach and current director of rugby Gert Smal, before going on to be named IRB World Player of the Year that same year.
Of course, Burger’s love affair with Newlands started long before then as he has been visiting the famous old ground for as long as he can remember.
“The love affair started at a very young age, since I can remember my old man (Schalk Burger senior) was playing here and I sort of grew up on the scholars seats - our seat was just outside the main tunnel to the right there.
“Then your whole school career you rushed to Newlands after school games to watch first Western Province and then the Stormers play,” Burger told www.iamastormer.com.
In this age of professional rugby, it is rare for a player to stay loyal to one union for so long, but Burger admits that he has a special connection to the Western Cape and the Newlands faithful.
“I have always enjoyed playing in Cape Town, first of all I enjoy living here - it is a great place to live. Secondly to play at Newlands, I have been lucky enough to play heaps of games there and captain the Stormers and Western Province and I have enjoyed every single moment.
“For the last two years I have done short stints in Tokyo, which is a lovely place and I have enjoyed playing there, but it is always special coming back to Cape Town.
“I have got a good support system around here, a lot of good mates and to me this is always going to be home.
“I have been very privileged to play here for a long time, I started playing senior rugby for Western Province in 2003, and I can’t think of a better place to play professional rugby - we are the best supported franchise in the world and I want to thank all the fans for such loyal support,” he said.
This season will be Burger’s last at Newlands, and he is determined to make it a special one before he heads off to England in August to play for Saracens in the Aviva Premiership.
“We have got a young team and there is a massive hunger to improve and to play. I have bought into this and I think I can add a lot of value.
“We have made a few adjustments from last year, there is a new coaching staff but Fleckie (head coach Robbie Fleck) has been around for a long time.
“We are going to have times where we have to stand strong on what our values are and what we want to do because this is a tough competition,” he added.
As a former Stormers captain Burger is committed to help nurture the next generation of leaders to ensure they are able to take the team forward when he moves on, and has pledged to support co-captains Juan de Jongh and Frans Malherbe as he takes one last crack at winning that elusive trophy.
“My role in the team hasn’t changed whether I wear the captain’s armband or not, I am here to support Juan de Jongh and Frans Malherbe and I play an integral part in managing the team and the way we want to play.
“I have always enjoyed the challenge of being a senior player, I don’t think it affects the way I play, it actually spurs me on.
“I am happy with where I fit into the system, I have bought in and I am always going to be very influential in the current set-up,” he added.
Burger will start in the No 7 jersey when the Stormers open their 2016 season against the Bulls at Newlands on Saturday (17:15 kick-off).
15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Juan de Jongh (co-captain), 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Oli Kebble
Substitutes: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Frans Malherbe (co-captain), 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Leolin Zas
15 Warrick Gelant , 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Nic de Jager, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), Trevor Nyakane
Substitutes: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Burger Odendaal