An ode to the Incredible Schalk

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Here at LeftBacks HQ, we couldn’t be happier that Schalk Burger’s remarkable comeback was adjudged as the 2014/15 sporting year’s best by the Laureus Awards.

While we’ll be the first to admit that we know very little about his competitors in the category, we feel fairly confident to say that Burger’s journey back on to the field has been nothing short of sensational.

Just two short years ago, Schalk was in a world of trouble and many many people, people I know personally, thought he was “over the wall” and well and truly done.

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And for anyone other than the Incredible Schalk, it probably would’ve been the end.

For those who don’t know, his injury woes all started with a serious knee injury during match one of the 2012 Super15 against the Hurricanes, which ruled him out for the season. Then, while undergoing pre-season training for the Stormers’ 2013 season, Schalk pulled up with a calf injury. A back scan revealed the cause of the injury was a cyst on his spine which needed to be drained. It was during the draining operation that Schalk contracted a hospital bug which led to bacterial meningitis placing him in isolation for 4 or 5 days. Meningitis is a serious illness and at one stage, Schalk was engaged in his fiercest battle yet – the battle for his life.

But in true Super Burger fashion, he brushed these setbacks aside.

He made his comeback to the professional fold during Province’s Currie Cup match against the Cheetahs in September 2013 – 18 months after the knee injury that started the whole thing.

Understandably (for some), he wasn’t his barnstorming best initially and this led to another barrage of “over the walls” and “he’ll never be the same again” from fair weather fans, but Burger stayed committed and importantly, despite a small neck niggle during the 2014 Super15 season, he managed to stay healthy.

During the 2014 June test window, Heyneke picked Schalk as a member of his 36 man Springbok squad, and while he started from the bench he almost always made his presence felt when he got his chance to stride out onto the paddock.

That then brings us to this year and so far in 2015, Schalk has been magnificent for the Stormers. Turning back the clock, he has clattered into collisions with utter disregard for his own wellbeing, getting around the park like a spritely 24 year old. Even the Australian commentators have been singing ‘Schalkie’s’ praises with Phil Kearnes recalling an incident where Burger broke one of his ribs during a match, yet wore the biggest smile ever when addressing the media directly after. Sports fans the world over would agree that If you are respected by an Australian, then you must be doing something right.

So this probably leaves the World Cup as Burger’s swansong.

Should he be picked? Oh absolutely. Not only is he versatile in that he can play 6, 7 or 8, but he is also a veteran of 75 tests. What’s more, Burger just has the right kind of spirit that could win us a third World Cup.

He is the kind of player that would quite literally lay his life on the line as long as the Boks are successful. He’ll keep fighting until the very end and the team will not take a single step backward if he has any say in the matter. He is the epitome of that dogged fighting spirit that is crucial in every single sportsman that ever hopes to truly be declared a legend of the game, and us as South Africans should be incredibly proud to call him one of our own.

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