Schalk still in doubt

Schalk Burger will undergo a fitness test on Thursday afternoon to ascertain his availability for Saturday’s international against Italy.

Despite not training on Monday or Tuesday, Burger was named in the Bok line-up. Earlier in the week team doctor Craig Roberts was confident Burger would be able to run on for his 57th cap, but a decision will only be made later today.

‘I’m doing a fitness test this afternoon, so we’ll see how that goes,’ Burger said without 100% conviction. ‘I’m feeling pretty good – hopefully it goes well.’

Francois Louw, who hasn’t been named on the bench, will come into the starting team if Burger is declared unfit.

Peter de Villiers explained his decision not to rest Burger despite carrying an injury due to the inclusion of Dewald Potgieter in the side, in order for him to have the best opportunity to excel. If passed fit, Burger will play alongside his blond-haired lookalike for the first time and he doesn’t expect any problems in terms of the balance of the trio with the pair of flanks being almost exact replicas in the type of game they play.

‘I’ve played with Pierre [Spies] a lot, but not as much with Dewald,’ said Burger. ‘Flo and Dewald are actually pretty similar players, it’s just that they have different strengths. Flo’s really good on the ground and stealing ball, but Dewald is also strong there. He also has a high work-rate.’

Turning his attention to the official for the Witbank clash, Burger said how they adapt to referee Keith Brown’s interpretations at the breakdowns will be crucial to the outcome. The Italians are expected to spoil as much as possible in order to disrupt the Boks’ rhythm, but the hosts will have to be clinical in that area and should be helped by a referee they know from the Super 14.

One of the highlights of the Test season so far has been the way Louw has dealt with the stricter interpretations and still managed to turnover ball, which he did on five occasions against France.

‘It will again be a big challenge how we interpret the breakdown, and as eight forwards, we have to stand up,’ said Burger. ‘I honestly haven’t looked at Brown’s approach yet. But we’ll have a meeting with him before the game to see what he wants from us.

‘We’ll have to adapt. We know from last year’s encounter that Italy will be hugely physical again.

‘We know they’ll be competitive. They’ll try get on top of our set-piece, and that will go a long way to disrupting our game-plan and taking us out of our comfort zone. If they do that, that will flow over to the breakdowns, but we have to get quick ball to get momentum.’

Burger also expects Italy coach Nick Mallett to have an influence on proceedings. Burger knows Mallett well from his  time as director of rugby at Western Province, and although the Italians are not renowned for their skill behind the pack, the Boks can be assured of a typically emotional Italian side.

‘We know they’ll be really psyched up. They’ll really want to climb into us. Nick has a great passion for the game, he loves it, and that will show in how they play and the heart they’ll display. He also knows our game well, so they’ll be well-prepared.’

By Grant Ball, in Witbank