“He’s the man,” said Panel chairman Paul Morgan. “He has no thought for his own safety.”
For Jacques Burger, every picture tells the story of his rugby life. The Saracens flanker sports a broken nose that has been repaired “four or five times” and the kind of wild hair that acts as a warning to the unwary.
Burger plays with such commitment to the cause that he appears to put his body at serious risk every time he goes into contact. He admits to having spent four days recovering from the effects of his performance against London Irish on the opening day of this season’s Aviva Premiership but now that his body is, once again, accustomed to the batterings, he is desperate to take on leaders Northampton Saints at Vicarage Road on Sunday.
However, it would be wrong to suggest Burger was merely a back-row forward intent on putting himself in harm’s way. Top class open-side flankers need to be both slightly mad and technically sound to fulfil their role, which revolves around knocking opponents over and trying to steal the ball or delay the opposition getting their hands on possession.
“My wife loves my nose and hair and still says I am pretty,” said Burger. “I play rugby with passion and intensity and you could describe me as fearless. I just go out there to enjoy my rugby. Someone asked me recently how I manage to get up’ for games and there is a switch which just goes on once I step onto the pitch.
“Some of the backs say that I have no respect for my body but all I’m doing is giving 100 per cent to the cause and hopefully, giving the team a boost during the game.
“I feel so at home on the pitch, I’m lucky to have been born that way. Yes, it does hurt the day after a match when the adrenaline has gone but the soreness does get less as the season goes on and we are going to have another vital game with Northampton.
“It will be a big old battle and I came to England to play with and against the best players and if we want to win the Premiership then we have to beat Northampton on Sunday.”
Having arrived last December, Burger has quickly won over the Sarries fans who would have known little about the former Bulls forward when he moved to London to replace Wikus van Heerden, who returned to South Africa to join the Lions in Johannesburg.
Anyone who hears Burger’s voice will wrongly assume that he’s another of the club’s South African contingent but the 27-year-old is a native of Windhoek and has just guided Namibia through the tough qualifying rounds to earn a place at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
Given that the Namibian squad only features four professional players, they are always going to struggle on the biggest stage and have yet to win a match at a World Cup tournament. It will be the fourth time they will be appearing at the greatest rugby show on the planet and while their
predominantly amateur squad will hope to make an impact, everyone associated with the team knows that captain Burger is certain to leave his mark on the opposition.
“Hopefully, at the end of next year I will be captain of Namibia again,” said Burger, who has been capped 24 times by his country.
“It’s a great achievement to qualify and I’m very proud of everyone who helped get us to the finals. Of course it is tough group with South Africa, Wales, Fiji and Samoa.
“We are the second African-qualifying team and there were six or seven games and we ended up playing off against Tunisia. When you look at that pool you can say that we have been thrown into the deep end — let’s hope we can bring the World Cup back to Namibia!”
While Burger’s life currently revolves around rugby, he is planning for the future and has bought a farm with his father-in-law back home in Namibia and will be undertaking courses while here in England to prepare him for a very different challenge.
Burger added: “The farm has around 200 sheep and 50 cattle. My wife comes from a farming family but I don’t and so I am going to do some courses over here about looking after animals. I have a lot of learning to do about farming, although things are different in Africa.
“There are leopards who can take stock and recently, my uncle had to move a crocodile in a local river after a couple of sheep went missing.”