Still hope for Schalk

Schalk Burger hasn’t been officially ruled out of the first Test.

The Springbok flank suffered a recurrence of a calf injury in training this week, and reports suggested that he would miss the King’s Park Test. However, Springbok forwards coach Gary Gold insisted that a final decision on Burger would be taken at the latest possible time.

‘We need to establish exactly what Schalk’s position is first and foremost. We’ll have a look at him over the course of the weekend,’ Gold told ‘At the moment we’ll just see what happens, and give him a much time as possible to recover.

‘I haven’t spoken to any of the medical staff today, so I wouldn’t know his status. He ran today and looked pretty comfortable, but I don’t know what his exact status is.’

Gold added that they hadn’t decided on a potential replacement for Burger yet, but said he wasn’t irreplaceable given the depth in reserve available to them.

‘Ryan Kankowski and Danie Rossouw both cover that position, and Heinrich Brüssow was in our bigger squad, so he could be an option,’ he said.

‘With the wealth in depth and quality we have in the team, you’ll probably find that not many of guys are irreplaceable. We got an unbelievably talented squad, and while it is never easy to lose players of Schalk’s calibre, he’s one of the stalwarts with nearly 50 caps, the beauty of having the experience and strength in depth is that we can replace him if needs be.

‘Unfortunately one guy’s misfortune is another’s opportunity. That’s the healthy state that South African rugby’s in at the moment.’

Gold is renowned as one of the game’s most analytical minds, and has studied the Lions closely over the course of their warm-up matches. He says they have shown their hand in terms of how they’ll look to play against the Springboks, but stressed that that didn’t mean it would be easier to break them down.

‘If you study northern hemisphere rugby you’ll find that the international and club teams who have been successful, especially in the last five years, have been teams who have had a philosophy of quality of execution as opposed to innovation,’ he explained.

‘The top teams haven’t surprised or shocked people by the way they’ve played. They are teams who’ve been able to execute better than others, and Wales falls into that category quite strongly. With a strong Welsh coaching staff they’ll take that philosophy forward with the Lions.

‘So I’m not saying they are going to throw plays at us that we haven’t seen because I’m sure they will, but they will probably not be concerned by what we [the Springboks] have seen. They’ll be thinking that we still have to go out and stop it.’

Gold continued by saying he had seen a marked improvement in all facets of the Lions’ play from their awful first hit out to the fairly clinical negotiation of the Sharks.

‘Almost every aspect of their game is well coached, and they are very organised. Certainly that is the feedback we’ve got from the guys who have played against them. Every player knows exactly what his role is. It’s probably not dissimilar to where we aspire to go,’ he said

‘It was well documented last week that they put a lot of work in at the breakdown, where they struggled against the Cheetahs. When you put a lot of emphasis on a particular facet of play like they have, you are going to show a marked improvement. Another area of their game that will improve is their kicking and I think they’ll have a good set piece as well, so we realise we’re going to have our work cut out for us.’

By Ryan Vrede, in Durban.