Springbok flank Schalk Burger has been ruled out of the remainder of the 2006 season after suffering a career-threatening neck injury against Scotland.
This was confirmed by a shell-shocked Jake White at Monday’s press conference in Cape Town.
“This morning I was told Schalk would be out for three weeks,” said the coach. “Then an hour later I was told it would be eight weeks if he had an operation. Now I’ve just been told that he will be out until January. I’m scared to let him go to another doctor, because he might say that Schalk can never play rugby again.”
Burger injured himself in the 18th minute of Saturday’s Test against Scotland when his head collided with a Scottish player’s hip, but continued to play despite the discomfort. It was only once he had cooled off after the game that he realised something was wrong.
“Schalk got injured early on, but didn’t think it was too serious,” said White. “On the plane trip to Cape Town, he said he was sore – and if he says he’s sore then he’s really sore. He has the highest pain threshold of any player in the squad. He complained that his entire body was sore and when he started getting pins and needles down one side, we got worried.”
Burger now requires a neck fushion operation, which is as serious as it sounds.
“They have to take bone from his hip,” said White. “I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but there’s a chance he may never play again.
“This again backs up what I’ve been saying for ages. We have to manage our players more carefully. Schalk is 23 years old and needs a major operation. He’s going to get six months ‘rest’ during the Test season when it should be the other way around [by being rested in the Super 14].
“Look at how many of the 2002 SA U21 squad are hurt â€“ Ashwin Willemse, Gurthro Steenkamp … Gordon Gilfilan had to have a cruciate ligament replacement, Clyde Rathbone was out for a year, Ricky Januarie missed last year’s end of year tour, Juan Smith has injured before … the list just goes on and on. We need to develop our players properly physically or this will keep happening.
“Yes, Schalk’s was a freak injury, but so was Ashwin’s and so was Gurthro’s. The fact is 22 and 23 year olds are picking up freak injuries playing against 28 year olds.”
White confirmed he would not replace Burger, despite earlier speculation that Lions captain Wikus van Heerden would rejoin the Bok squad.
“I’m happy with what I’ve got,” he said. “Joe van Niekerk, Pedrie Wannenburg and Jacque Cronje are all in the squad. The fact is you need three or four players to replace a guy like Schalk. Schalk’s stats were twice as good as any other Bok on Saturday, and that’s despite playing 60 minutes with a neck injury.”
Meanwhile, White confirmed that Andre Snyman had recovered from an injury to his right wrist and would probably play against France. Breyton Paulse’s fitness will be assessed later in the week, while Bakkies Botha and Jaque Cronje both resumed training on Monday.
By Simon Borchardt, in Cape Town