Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Schalk Burger thinks England are on same path as Springboks a decade ago

World Cup winner Schalk Burger has given Eddie Jones' England a seal of approval.

And Burger, who won 86 caps for South Africa during a glittering 12-year Test career, says he can see "a lot of similarities" between Jones' England group and how the Springboks bounced back from World Cup disappointment in 2003 to lift the trophy four years later.

South Africa made a quarter-final exit from the tournament that England won 13 years ago, but they soon regrouped under Jake White - and then Jones in an assistant coach's capacity - to be crowned 2007 world champions.

Since England made a miserable pool stage exit under Stuart Lancaster from the 2015 World Cup they hosted, Jones has led a stunning transformation by masterminding nine successive victories, including a Six Nations Grand Slam and 3-0 Test series triumph against Australia.

And Burger, who now packs down with the likes of England powerhouses Billy Vunipola, Maro Itoje and Mako Vunipola at Aviva Premiership champions Saracens, acknowledges it is an exciting time.

"These players are good players," he said. "I am playing with the core of England's forward pack, and I think they are hungry for success.

"I think after the (2015) World Cup, these guys were ready to take the next step. Obviously, that World Cup was a massive disappointment.

"I went through that in 2003 when we got knocked out and Jake White took over a young squad eager to improve, and Eddie was off the back of that in 2007 when he was assistant to Jake and eventually we won it. So I see a lot of similarities with this England group."

England launch their autumn series against South Africa at Twickenham on November 12, when they will encounter a Springboks side that has been way off the pace in this season's Rugby Championship, which was won two rounds inside the distance by world champions New Zealand.

"I'm South African, so I am always going to back the Springboks," Burger added.

"They are going through a transition, so England can probably be confident when they face them, but Twickenham has been a very happy hunting ground for the Springboks. I hope we can turn it around."

Saracens are just three games into the season, but they remain unbeaten in pursuit of a possible third successive Premiership title - a 27-12 victory over Northampton being their latest success - and Burger has been impressed by what he has seen.

"It has been really enjoyable," he said. "I have played Super Rugby for many years, and it has a different allure to it. You spend your energy on different things.

"Here, we have a pretty technical game, so it was important for me to learn how Saracens play. Luckily for me it has been pretty seamless. They are a great bunch of boys, which makes it easier to settle.

"It is not the easiest season to join Saracens, with the trophies they won last year, but I think that is what excites this group of players, they want to win more.

"It is contagious how hard they want to work and to improve. How the team aligns itself off the field is pretty important, and that is similar to what I experienced back home in Cape Town.

"A lot of the time that can give you the extra five per cent when you have that extra feeling for the bloke next to you, playing for your mates.

"I have only been here recently, but the guys really seem to respond to being challenged in difficult circumstances. It is a good attribute to have."


From Belfast Telegraph