By Schalk Burger
The last 18 months have been the toughest of my life. Back in 2012, I had a serious knee injury in my first game of Super Rugby, which ruled me out for the entire season. I thought that was bad, but it got much worse.
When I started training again for 2013, they found a cyst on my spinal cord and after my first operation I picked up a form of bacterial meningitis. There was a critical stage for four or five days where it could have gone either way, but luckily I pulled through. It took four operations to get rid of the cyst and after eight weeks in hospital and three months at home, I started the slow road to recovery.
The question I’m asked most is, ‘Do I want to play for the Springboks again?’ Well, if I play to my capability, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t. If I fall below those standards, I probably won’t make it because of the talent coming through.
What I’ve seen from Heyneke Meyer’s side has been hugely encouraging. Last year we played a conservative game, but this year they have evolved with a good mix of youngsters and elder statesmen.
In South Africa, there are concerns over the increasing player drain to Europe. At Test level it’s not having much of an effect, but player turnover at our Super Rugby franchises is higher than ever. Players head to Europe at a younger age for financial benefits and if we continue to lose our big players to France or England, the true effect could be felt a few years down the line. It will be a sad day for the South African fan when you don’t have the top 15 Springboks slogging it out.
Interestingly, we’ve seen reports about the South African franchises hooking up with English and French clubs. It could be an exciting competition, but it’s up to SARFU to make the big decisions when the TV deal comes up in a few years.
Compared to other sports, we’re really missing a global season. Once we can get the North and South together, it will clear up grey areas and you can dedicate slots to certain competitions. A new global season could mean players play less and add longevity to their careers.
Next month I’ll be in London playing for the Barbarians against Fjii. I last faced them in the RWC 2007 quarter-final – a very tight affair. They have phenomenal physical attributes and like to throw it around. I remember Nick Mallett saying the perfect breed of rugby player is a mix of Afrikaan and South Sea Islander.
The Baa-Baas are a throwback to the amateur days. You just chuck a team together, have a few lagers and give it your best on game day. After the time I’ve had, I can’t wait.
Barbarians v Fiji at Twickenham, Sat 30 Nov (2.30pm). See ticketmaster.co.uk.