Jake White believes statistics don’t reveal Schalk Burger’s true value to the Springboks.
Heinrich Brüssow made his Bok debut off the bench in last year’s 42-6 hiding over England at Twickenham, while Burger had been at his irrepressible best – especially on defence – for the full 80.
Before Saturday’s final round of Super 14 fixtures however, Cheetahs opensider Brüssow had better numbers when compared to Bok incumbent Burger.
The statistics show that Brüssow has bettered Burger in areas such as the tackle and breakdown, but White believes statistics don’t tell the entire story as a team that is forced to make more tackles would inflate a player’s stats in this regard.
Brüssow had made 205 and missed just 30 tackles in 903 minutes of rugby (before the final round), compared to Burger’s 116 completed and 35 slipped in 774 minutes.
‘You don’t pick rugby teams based only on stats,’ White told The Sunday Times. ‘The tackle-count stats are only relevant if the opposing teams are making a similar number of tackles. Brüssow made 25 tackles against the Bulls, out of 237 tackles by the Cheetahs, which is massive. But look at the amount of defending his team was forced to do.
‘Tackles missed is a more vital stat, and if the difference is marginal, then what’s the big deal? The reality is that Schalk Burger can tackle and he has made 25 tackles in a Test before, so why are we suddenly concerned he won’t do it again?’
At the breakdown, the Cheetahs flank had forced 24 turnovers compared to Burger’s three, while the former had hit 80 rucks compared to Burger’s 52. Brüssow has conceded nine turnovers and 18 handling errors, compared to 15 and 22 respectively from Burger.
In a likely Bok loose-trio of Burger, Juan Smith and Pierre Spies the Boks would then have five lineout options – an area that is expected to be crucial in the Lions series – and here Burger edges the shorter Brüssow.
Burger has won eight set-pieces compared to Brüssow’s one and has also fielded four kick-offs to one. Burger has passed 102 times to Brüssow’s 65, as well as having more offloads – nine to seven.
These statistics for the Super 14 may point to a case for starting Brüssow against the Lions, but White is amazed this is even being contemplated.
‘Schalk is the best rugby player I’ve ever coached,’ he said. ‘The reason for that is simple — he’s the difference between winning and losing Test matches. Any guy who has that ability — a Jonah Lomu or a Jonny Wilkinson — has to be in your side.
‘That kind of player, who when he plays ensures the team is vastly better than when he doesn’t play, is special. Burger is that guy. He is the kind of player coaches can’t do without,’ said the former Bok coach.
‘Why would you want to drop a 1.93m, 49-Test veteran who’s won a junior and senior World Cup and is only 26, for a player with one Test cap in the most important series in the last decade?
‘Is dropping a player going to change the team or improve the team? If it’s the former, then why do it? If the answer is the latter, then it’s the right move.
‘Can we honestly say that at Test level dropping Schalk Burger will improve the team?’