No surprise as Burger to start against Aussies
THE two-way tussle between Schalk Burger and Warren Whiteley to deputise for injured Springbok eighthman Duane Vermeulen enters round two at the Suncorp Stadium on Saturday.
As expected, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer yesterday named Burger to start at eighthman in place of Whiteley for the opening Rugby Championship game against Australia.
Whiteley started in the 46-10 win over the World XV last Saturday, and this weekend it is Burger’s turn to show Meyer that the void left by Vermeulen, who had surgery on his neck, can be narrowed.
The Stormers utility flanker has the edge over Whiteley on a number of fronts – 75 caps to two, three World Cup appearances to none – but how he fronts up against Scott Higginbotham or Ben McCalman will affirm Meyer’s opinion that he is best suited at the back of the scrum.
“Warren didn’t do anything wrong but it was always the plan to give Burger a go at eight,” Meyer said.
“To have two great eights pushing for Duane’s position creates good competition among them and it is great to have.
“I think Schalk’s best position is eight and he has changed his whole game from when he was a youngster and was an out-andout openside flanker, pushing hard at the breakdown. Now suddenly he has developed his game and added some brilliant touches to it. He is a very skilful player, yet he is still physical.
“I’m expecting a tough contest on the ground, where Australia tend to compete well, and with Schalk there it means we have an extra loose-forward who can contest on the floor.”
The coach all but went for the same 23 that played last week, bar the inclusions of Burger in the starting XV and Heinke van der Merwe, Frans Malherbe, Lood de Jager and Lwazi Mvovo on the bench.
Last year an unforgivable error by Morne Steyn in Perth, when he failed to kick a penalty into touch and effectively end the game, was pounced upon by Wallabies and saw winger Rob Horne score a winning try.
This year fit-again Wallaby poacher David Pocock, the Boks’ bogeyman at the ruck, could be the difference, as he was in the 2011 World Cup quarterfinal in Wellington.
Pocock is an artist at being a nuisance. In Super Rugby he added eight tries to his repertoire, all scored from the back of the Brumbies’ driving mall. This was on top of his 29 steals in the competition. He finds new ways to annoy and win.
“He is a quality player,” Meyer said of Pocock. “I think he is a great leader and whenever he plays he lifts teams. He is a specialist opensider and he brings experience. That is why we are going with two openside flankers [Marcell Coetzee and Francois Louw], because he is very good on the ground.
“He can also carry the ball and he makes the right decisions. It is great to see him back. That said, I also think Michael Hooper is playing some of the best rugby I’ve ever seen him play.”
The Springboks beat the Wallabies handsomely the last time the two sides faced each other in Brisbane two years ago. Captain Jean de Villiers was unplayable that day.
The mace is now in the hands of Damian de Allende and debutant Jesse Kriel, to see if they can subdue Matt Giteau and Tevita Kuridrani in midfield.
“If you look at our record, we’ve not had many wins here,” Meyer said.
“Our 10-12-13 axis has inexperienced guys, so I wanted to give them a game under their belt, in a tough test environment against Australia.
“When we won in Brisbane two years ago, it was the best Springbok performance I’d ever seen since I’ve been involved . . . We have to be at our best and be on target with our set-pieces this time around.
“They are the type of side that can run you ragged and you have to be astute defensively . . . so I’m looking forward to seeing what Damian and Jesse can do.”