Burger thankful to be back doing what he loves

HARD MAN: Schalk Burger.
HARD MAN: Schalk Burger.


It was the adrenaline rushes Schalk Burger missed the most.

Burger, the rugged Springboks flanker who will start for the Stormers against the Crusaders tonight, accepts he is fortunate to be playing rugby following injuries, and later sickness, threatened his life.

Now the 68-test veteran is back – this will be his first appearance in New Zealand since the 2011 World Cup – and revelling in the natural highs, knowing how close he was to losing it all.

Burger’s misfortune began when a calf strain in February 2012 eventually resulted in him lying in intensive care fighting off bacterial meningitis.

An operation was required when a back scan revealed a cyst near his spine but after it was drained he picked up a bug that led to bacterial meningitis. For four days he was put in isolation and was so ill that there were fears he would die.

Later the cyst was removed, requiring three more back operations.

During his rehabilitation Burger, 30, enjoyed the time with friends and attending weddings and engagement parties around Cape Town but few things can replace a sport like rugby.

‘‘You do miss the physicality, you do. You really miss that adrenaline kick you get before and during a game and just being able to release it,’’ Burger says.

‘‘It’s something you get addicted to. Out there in the normal life it’s pretty difficult to get that sort of adrenaline rush. It’s impossible unless you jump out of a plane or do something silly. I’m glad I’m back.’’

Burger arrived in Christchurch with his Stormers team-mates in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

It is the first time he has visited the city since the earthquakes: ‘‘Obviously I had heard a lot about the devastation on the news but I didn’t realise the magnitude of it. It’s sad to see what has happened here.’’

Some long-term professionals gripe about the constant travel but he isn’t taking his return to New Zealand for granted – even if the recent floods forced the Stormers to abandon Tuesday’s training after about 20 minutes.

‘‘I don’t have the words to explain it, it was extremely difficult,’’ he said in reference to his time away from the sport.

‘‘It’s what I do, I am a professional rugby player and I grew up loving the game and when it gets taken away from you, you realise how much you miss it. I don’t wish it on anyone. It was tough.’’

Burger’s reputation has been built around using his 110kg frame to damaging effect and although he can be over aggressive, an eye-gouging charge during the British and Irish Lions series in 2009 was the most serious incident, it would be unwise for the Crusaders to underestimate his skills and ability to read the game tonight.

When asked if he considered retiring from rugby during his illness, he stated he had bigger things to worry about.

‘‘Jeez, at one stage I think it was more about just getting a normal quality of life back than actually playing rugby. Then, after a while, rugby became a possibility.

‘‘Over the past two years, when you are not doing what you love, you get a different perspective on life.’’

For Burger that is to get out on the field and ‘‘have fun’’, although he expressed some regret he wouldn’t meet his old adversary Richie McCaw, who has a fractured thumb, tonight.

 ‘‘I was looking forward to catching up with him. It would have been ideal to play against him and then have a few beers afterwards.’’