After tearing the hamstring off the bone at the end of last season, Saracens and former Springbok flanker Schalk Burger is eager to start his third season with the Premiership Champions.
The 35-year-old spoke at the Gallagher Premiership fixture launch last week, discussing Majorca holidays with Bath flanker and fellow Springbok Francois Louw, his mentorship of 20-year-old Sarries openside and England summer tourist Ben Earl and the challenge of once again meeting Wallaby great and opposite man George Smith on the pitch.
???"Nobody knows how good their preseason has been until they play that first game of the season" - We caught up with veteran Saracens back rower Schalk Burger at the @premrugby fixtures launch at the BT Tower! What are your thoughts on Sarries start to the season? ???? pic.twitter.com/eihZ7JltKf— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) July 6, 2018
“The summer was really good,” Burger said. “I went to Majorca for a week with Francois Louw and his family and then down to Cape Town. Not so much the summer in Cape Town. I watched the Test match, South Africa vs England.
“Cape Town is awesome, obviously a hometown for me, so it was good to catch up with some friends and family. It was a busy week, but then so was the week in Majorca!
How has your summer injury rehabilitation gone?
“It’s been alright,” Burger said. “I had a big injury at the end of last season. I tore my hamstring tendon in the last league match so I’ve been recovering from that. I think I’m about four weeks away from running.”
When speaking of his hand in the development of promising young openside Ben Earl, the 86-times-capped Springbok backrow spoke of a casual, yet close relationship with the 20-year-old Academy product and how the two flankers would spend hours on end discussing rugby whilst away from the training paddock.
He explained: “I think it’s pretty seamless really because we are in the same position we spend a lot of time together. We have a good chat about rugby before, during and after the sessions, and then afterwards maybe have lunch together.
“We also play golf, so when we play together, we get three or five hours to chat about rugby, having a conversation and asking questions. I mean, it’s nothing formal or anything like that.
“Ben is obviously a very exciting prospect. I saw him in Cape Town. I was having a beer and he was having a sports drink of choice. We haven’t played too much together, so hopefully this season we get that chance.
“We have great loose forward stocks [at Saracens], so it’s always tricky to align who’s playing together. But over the last two years, we’ve hardly had any of our loose forwards fit at the same time. We all seem to break down.
“Benny is a good player,” he continued. Like all young players it takes a while to understand what our best position is, and I think he’s an out and out openside
“He’s got a nice skillset. When I started out, I was playing eighth-man through school and university and then Jake White moved me to openside. When I think back then, it was quite nice having one role and being able to build on that.”
Burger is also relishing the chance to revisit an old rivalry with former Wallaby openside George Smith on Premiership soil. The two international greats spent years going head to head for club and country and will once again do battle following the news that the Australian has signed a six-month deal with recently promoted side Bristol Bears.
“I cut my teeth playing against George and Richie McCaw. Often you get asked who are the best players you’ve played against and it must be those two, we’ve had some good battles. Each one of us is subtly different.”
Burger may be fixed on getting one over his old sparring partner, but he also spoke fondly of the time spent operating beside Smith and further all-time greats while playing for the Barbarians.
“Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to play with him [Smith]. I’ve played for the Barbarians with George. I think we played two games together, and then Richie McCaw, I think in 2009. Jerry Collins was our eight-man.”
With the title of Premiership champions restored to their name and trophy cabinet, Saracens will look to defend their place atop of England’s elite and claim their fifth domestic title.
Saracens Director of Rugby Mark McCall will also have designs of restoring his side as European Champions Cup title holders, having failed to defend their top spot last season following a dour run of mid-season losses in the Northern Hemisphere’s most coveted club trophy.
The men from North West London kick-off their 2018/19 Premiership season in against Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park in the final game of the season’s opening weekend.
With new signings Alex Lewington and Tom Woolstencroft and the returning David Strettle in tow, they stand on sturdy ground as they shift their sights from pre-season drills to Premiership battlegrounds.