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Schalk Burger says Springboks bid to derail All Blacks starts with defence

Published 23/10/2015

Flanker Schalk Burger in action during the South Africa captain's run at Twickenham on Friday
Flanker Schalk Burger in action during the South Africa captain's run at Twickenham on Friday

South Africa star Schalk Burger knows all about winning against the odds - and a World Cup semi-final against New Zealand does not come close to matching what he has already achieved.

It is little more than two years ago that Burger contracted bacterial meningitis while in hospital undergoing surgery to drain a cyst.

His condition deteriorated to such an extent that there were major fears for his life, but after six weeks in hospital and a further two months of recuperation at home, he began thinking about rugby again.

And that journey continues at Twickenham on Saturday, with 84 times-capped flanker Burger tackling the All Blacks in a mighty heavyweight showdown.

Burger won the World Cup with South Africa eight years ago, yet his ambition and desire remains as strong as ever, underlined by him producing a series of outstanding displays during a campaign that started with South Africa losing to Japan, but one that now sees them a victory away from reaching another final.

"I am enjoying my rugby," he said. "It's really nice to be in a Springboks jersey, as a couple of years ago there was no chance of me getting back in.

"It (World Cup) didn't start too rosy for us, and the weeks after against Samoa and Scotland were probably the toughest we've had as a group together.

"There is a lot of credit there for the coaching staff, and the senior players in the team also took ownership. The only way you can take ownership is if you play well."

Burger has played 15 times for South Africa against New Zealand, winning five and losing 10, while Springboks head coach Heyneke Meyer this week described the current All Blacks as "the best team ever."

Asked if he agreed with his coach's comments, Burger added: "I think we have to. Statistics prove that.

"I think Richie McCaw (New Zealand captain) has won more Test matches than I've played, almost, so it's pretty hard to compete against guys who never seem to lose.

"Again, I think they're a great side, but within our team there is quite a lot of belief. We've put them under pressure in the past.

"The big thing about them is that their attack is phenomenal. They back their execution and skill-set, so they put you under more pressure than any other team in the world.

"When we have beaten them, it starts with defence, not letting them have any tempo on the ball, trying to slow them down, but then we create a lot of opportunities. If we do get opportunities, we have to use all of them."

The relaxed mood in South Africa's camp - some of the players visited Chelsea's training facilities this week, while others have a keen eye on Sunday's one-day international cricket clash between South Africa and India - is in stark contrast to the fall-out from the shock Japan loss just 34 days ago.

Springboks skipper Fourie du Preez has no doubt that Saturday's clash can lay claim to be "the biggest game in our lives," and for Burger, that will mean potentially a final head-to-head with McCaw, two of the game's greatest rugby union warriors.

Both look set to exit Test rugby after the World Cup, and Burger said: "We have become good mates. We've played against each other since 2003, and there have been a fair few contests. Unfortunately, I have been on the losing side of most of them."

And as for New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen's comment that South Africa will want to "rip our heads off" on Saturday, Burger added: "Not at the moment. Maybe tomorrow."

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