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Blonde Wrecking Ball

by Andy Davis / 27.01.2012

Schalk Burger is a South African rugby icon, and widely tipped to become the next Springbok captain. Mahala’s Andy Davis had a long chat with the blonde wrecking ball.

Mahala: So what I heard on my way here, in the car they were talking about David Pocock. His autobiography just came out and he’s admitted to being bulimic. And that just made me think about David Pocock, and I was suddenly all angry again about that game. Are you over it? How do you feel?

Schalk Burger: Well honestly, probably not hey. But at the end of the day we’ve made peace with the result. We lost in the quarter-final. I suppose the way we lost is probably the tough thing to swallow, the manner in which we left. Afterwards we were sitting having a few beers chatting about it and we got a feeling that shit, we didn’t deserve to lose that match, we deserved to win it. And that feeling is still there. It’s still a bit painful. So there’s a lot of frustration but at the end of the day you can’t change the result. We dropped out at the quarter-final which by South African standards is a disappointment.

Even for me as a spectator I was sitting there thinking that’s so unfair. Just the mention of the oke’s name was like a kick in the guts. So how do you come back against a ref like that? What is there to do?

No, there’s nothing to do. We handled the situation very maturely. Behind closed doors there were some harsh words spoken. The ref in that game had quite a big influence, but we can’t really go out and bad mouth him because the result still stands. And in the future we will probably get Bryce Lawrance again.

In all sports, there’s this kind of protection for referees and officiators instead of holding them to account and the administrators always say “it’ll bring the game into disrepute” but what really brings the game into disrepute is when refs make bad decisions and they’re not held accountable transparently. They should be dropped down the rankings, or investigated for foul play, the same way a rugby team is.

Well for us it was the end of the tournament and for a lot of our guys it was the end of a career. And it’s always a big match and there’s high pressure and we understand that there will always be an element of human error. But at the end of the day what was disappointing, from a World Cup point of view, is that for a lot of games the referee had a big input into the result. If you watch cricket and you understand the review system, they’re sort of trying to get the right result most of the time and I think with rugby we’ve maybe got to look at allow television refs to look at the whole field of play and not just try decisions. The captain’s got to have a recall to review something.

That’s quite a cool idea imagine getting blown up for a penalty and the captain goes, actually hang on can we just…

For example the forward pass try, you say listen here, sorry, but I’ll have to have a look at that. Use the benefit of television, cause there are so many cameras.

Also that penalty when we were in our fifth or sixth phase right on their try line and Pocock turned the ball over.

So I mean obviously I think it will be quite funny if we open up the television refs jurisdiction. I think Rugby League’s got it so when a try gets scored you quickly ascertain if the guys behind the ball, if it was a forward pass or if there’s obstruction. Just makes it a bit more fair.


Ja, I don’t know. What makes it more frustrating is that Supersport tend to play this game so many times on replay. You know, when you’re flicking through channels and you get to it, you can’t not stop and have a look at it and the frustration just starts all over but I suppose it’s something that will haunt the guys that played for the rest of our lives. You get the feeling when the team is starting to believe that we are good enough to actually win this thing and I suppose that whole week of quarterfinals we were very confident that we were actually going to play well and we put Australia under a lot of pressure. We pinned them in their half and they were stuck there for a long, long period of time. And obviously for us, you feel that it’s going to happen. It has to. But then you look at the scoreboard and you’re trailing 11 points and then the scoreboard pressure starts building. It was a weird game. I don’t think I’ve ever played with a team that’s played so well and didn’t win the match. It was a completely lopsided game.

I’m sorry to make you relive it.

You won’t be the last.

Apart from an expanded video ref system, what’s the biggest change you’d like to see happen in world Rugby?

I think we need a global season because at the moment we don’t have a global season.

Like football?

Yeah, like football, cricket. If you get a global season and you get a 2 or 3 month period where there’s no tournaments except the World Cup or whatever, then you can start all these other tournaments like Pro 20 in Cricket. So it’s quite exciting then you can put like a champions league together.

How old are you now?

I’m twenty eight

So you’ve still got a few more years


So what’s your strategy going forward?

Well I’ve signed with Western Province for three more years, so I’m obviously quite excited about that. I love Cape Town. Then there’s a lot of rugby being played, but maybe I can push for one more World Cup, if I’m still fit and if I’m still playing good rugby. I’d like to try and make another World Cup.

What is interesting for me is it seems like you’ve been playing the best rugby of your life. I remember watching you as a younger man and you were kind of all over the field and you still have the same physicality but it seems like you choose your moments better. Now you’re much more effective. Was your neck injury against Scotland a big turning point for you?

Ja 100%. I had to change my game a little, and I suppose as you get older you sort of evolve and the team changes. So every year you learn something new and try something new. As you get older your communication skills and your understanding of the game becomes better. Obviously having a big neck injury will put your game in perspective and you’ll choose your moments a bit more wisely.

Who do you reckon is the most underrated South African rugby player at the moment?

Well look there’s many good players I think, but a guy like JP Pietersen has always been underrated , he’s an outstanding winger, he’s a very good player. I think a guy like Danie Rossouw outstanding at the world cup, most of the other guys are pretty highly rated everywhere so, I mean our team was pretty much filled with super stars from front to back. Jannie Du Plessis had a fantastic year I thought, he was magnificent.

In South African we don’t really have celebrities. Like the most we get is someone like Danny K or someone who’s a soap opera star. Whereas rugby players are like rock stars, when you go shopping it must be a bit like that Vodacom ad. How do you deal with that? Like not having any personal space anymore when anyone thinks they can be your big chommie and just walk up to you in a bar and in the mall and expect to give you a high five…

I suppose it comes with the territory but there are those days when you actually just want to mind your own business and those are tough days and you’re not always in a good mood especially when the rugby is not going too well. You’ve lost a few and you go to your local Cavendish and you look to have a Vida e coffee and read a car magazine by yourself and then you get the half of Cape Town jumping on your back so… giving you advice and asking “why you select this guy?” So we understand the rugby public’s passion and I think when it’s going well then it’s probably the most magnificent position to be in because then everyone is positive, but then when it’s not going too well, when it’s going tough, then you don’t have a lot of privacy. But I think I’m more worried about the time when people don’t recognize me anymore. It’s definitely not normal and I think you’ve got to see it in that light. You’re public property, which is fun in the right circumstances but in the wrong circumstances it’s not that much fun.

So you just got married, but you must get hit on all the time. How do you cope with that?

Yeah, I suppose when you’re younger it was actually good fun. It’s an easy way to meet the ladies. But I’ve been dating my wife for a long, long time, the best part of eight years, so we’ve been pretty fortunate. She’s a good bird. We all enjoy a bit of attention and get a bit ahead of ourselves sometimes, but at the same time I’ve been fortunate enough to meet all my childhood heroes from Boris Becker straight through to Valentino Rossi.

Have you started to think about life after rugby?

No, not really. Obviously my parents have a family wine business , they’re wine farmers, so ideally I’d like to move up to Wellington and go stay around there but obviously I can’t just finish rugby and arrive at the farm and say, yes Dad make way for me. Funny enough, I haven’t thought about it. I haven’t invested in any businesses whatsoever, I’ve got a few properties and that’s about it. I’d like to do my own thing after rugby whether it be in television or maybe start a business with a few mates, but I haven’t given it too much thought. I figure I’m a pretty hands on person so when I want to get involved in something it’s better that I give it 100% of my attention rather than playing rugby and being 5% involved. I’ll play rugby until it’s finished and then I’ll move on to the next chapter.

When you’re out at the pub do you find like young okes think hey that’s Schalk, he’s big boy but I can maybe take tha. Do you get people being antagonistic with you?

I’ve been very fortunate that I haven’t been in that position too many times. I’m pretty calm though, I suppose. If I do get into that situation I’ll just move on to the next pub, I won’t hang around, I’ll just move. There’s a lot of great pubs in Cape Town and the beer tastes equally as good wherever you go, so I’ll just move on and let them take my space.

You’ve been playing rugby since you were about ten or eleven. Have you got a list of injuries that you’ve had to overcome?

I don’t know where I would start actually. I’ve pretty much had it all, I think, you get certain guys like Victor Matfield who’s never really had an operation in fifteen years of playing professional rugby. Same with Percy Montgomery, but Percy was a full back so he didn’t take too much contact. Percy also played twenty years of professional rugby without an operation. For me all the big injuries, like the knee ligaments that kept me out of playing rugby for a month, and then I broke my thumb in the last game of Super Rugby, so they kept me out for eight weeks. Last year I broke a couple of ribs, then obviously my neck op was a big one. Luckily I’ve never had a shoulder burst, I haven’t had operations but I’ve done this C joint where your collar bone just moves up a bit. But I bit the bullet and just played with it, which is not too much fun. I suppose as the season gets longer everyone plays with an injury. The nice thing when you start a season is, maybe you’re not as fit but at least the body is 100%. When you do take big contact it’s not that deep pain you get towards the end of the season.

Schalk Burger

So at the age of twenty eight you’ve won a World Cup, what really is there left to achieve in rugby? Have you still got the desire to go out there?

Oh absolutely. I think if the desire was gone I would have stopped playing for the Boks. Obviously with Western Province and Stormers there’s a huge drive to win silverware, I’ve been involved for the best part of ten years, me and Jean De Villiers, and we haven’t won any team trophies there and I suppose both he and I have both won a few personal accolades, which is nice, but I mean the big thing is for our team to win trophies. So for the last three years we’ve been very consistent especially in Super Rugby, but it just hasn’t happened in the big matches. But I suppose if we keep on putting ourselves in position to compete and make semi-finals, I’m a 100% sure it will come. It’s just a bit frustrating that it hasn’t happened yet.

What do you think of all the conspiracy theories about New Zealnd fixing the World Cup?

Yeah, there’s a lot of conspiracy theories about that one so I suppose if New Zealand didn’t win the World Cup at home then they would probably have had to close New Zealand. They probably would not have had existed as a country anymore. [Laughs] There was a lot of talk, obviously questioning how financially liable it was taking a World Cup to New Zealand. But at the end of the day, they were a number one side for four years, so in the long run they do deserve to be World Champs. On that day, the French came very close.

What do you reckon the problem is with the Stormers? Coming so close, so often?

It’s always a tough one. I mean obviously we’ve lost a lot of big matches but then in the season there’s a lot of big matches which define your season and we’ve won most of those. So to be consistent and finish second, just two points behind the Reds, who won the competition, you have to have a solid team. It’s hard to put your finger on it. In the last two years we won both semi-finals easily and then unfortunately in the finals we got beaten completely, so it is tough. And I suppose that the longer this lingers the more baggage we as players carry and the media is on top of it and I suppose we sort of become in a similar situation to where our cricketers are where they’ll win everything in between World Cups. I think we’ll keep on working and we’ll obviously have to improve our game, but I also think we need a bit of luck. We don’t have a lot of luck in big games. We’ve got a good core group and most of the guys are here for the next three years so I think it might be The Stormers time coming in the next couple of years.

You’ve travelled enough around the rugby world, any other place you could see yourself living apart from South Africa?

I can see myself living in the platteland in Argentina. Meat, wine, women. I think Australia is fantastic and obviously New Zealand is nice and in the beginning of the year Europe is always nice. But a few times I’ve visited Argentina, I’m actually very glad they are part of the Four Nations now. I can easily see myself going incognito in South America, where no one really knows who I am.

Schalk Burger

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