Jacques Burger believes it would be a tactical masterstroke for South Africa to deploy veteran hooker Schalk Brits at No8 during the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has hinted that the 38-year-old former Saracens hooker could play in the back row during the Cup to give the first choice players in those positions a break, particularly against pool opponents Namibia and Canada.
The rest of the pool is made up of New Zealand and Italy and those tier one nations will require the full compliment of Springbok starters as Erasmus attempts to guide his country to a third World Cup triumph. The head coach received flak for urging Brits to come out of retirement to provide his squad with much needed experience at hooker and even handed him the captaincy for the recent Rugby Championship win over Argentina.
Now, it appears Erasmus has another major task for 13-cap Brits to undertake and Burger, his former team mates at Saracens and the ex-Namibia captain, is confident the hooker can make a seamless switch into a role that he undertook with such passion and commitment in 38 tests for his country. Burger’s face carries the scars of years of back row foraging and he admits the famously wide Brits smile could take a battering once he moves into a No8 role.
Burger said: “It would be a nightmare to defend against Schalla if he picks the ball up off the base of the scrum and uses his footwork and everything else in his armoury. He could be a real weapon for the Springboks and a massive asset.
“Schalla can play anywhere and is one of those guys who is so talented that everything is easy for him and that is very frustrating for the rest of us! He has a great competitive mentality and while he is very chilled off the pitch, when he plays he is extremely competitive and I would have him in any position in my team just to have him involved. He has this kindness about him and is a really good bloke and can make lots of things happen when he gets onto the pitch.
“We all know what Schalla can do with ball in hand and a lot of people don’t see what he does without the ball. He puts in a lot of work and is very physical for a guy of his size and that was always against him when he was playing in South Africa. Rassie has moved past that and has seen what Schalla can bring to the team and has a lot of rugby smarts about him. ”
Burger was never a main line out option in his career and would relish the sight of Brits, who has spent his career throwing into the line out, being used as jumper in Japan. “ He is definitely not going to jump at the line out but I do hope they let him try for one throw so that he can see how high it is up there!: “ added Burger who is now based back in Namibia.
“ I believe that I improved my looks with all the knocks I took playing in the back row and Schalla has been blessed that his pretty little face has not taken too much damage. I am sure he won’t take a backward step for anyone playing at No8 and I am really excited to see what he can bring to the World Cup.
“ A lot of people felt he never got his opportunity when he was younger and in the form of his life and to get this opportunity at 38 is fantastic. To see my great friend get this chance is wonderful and he will do really well.”