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Schalk Burger | Maxwell Scott Success Stories

He’s a World Cup winner and one of the finest back row players in the world. Springbok turned Saracen, Mr Schalk Burger talks to us about being close to death, his proudest moments on the pitch and the characteristics you need to make it professional…

Reading time: 3 minutes, 34 seconds

Schalk Burger is a quintessential gentleman of rugby with the accolades to prove it. IRB Player of the year at 21, 86 caps for his native South Africa, and World Cup winner in 2007, he’s the type of player that doesn’t just play rugby – he lives for it. After successful stints at Stormers and Suntory, he joined our partners Saracens in 2016 and helped drive the team to two consecutive Champions Cup titles in 2016 and 2017. Despite several battles with illness and injury, the world-famous back rower, who turns 35 today, has carved an exceptional career so far – one that makes him incredibly respected within the world of rugby.

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Your first memories of playing rugby?

My first memory of playing rugby is tackling my brother in the back yard. I was 5 years old and he was 4 years old. My dad was teaching us how to tackle and I ended up breaking my brother’s leg.

When did you realise that you wanted to become a professional rugby player?

I only realised that I wanted to be a professional rugby player at the age of 19. I was more of a cricketer at school and when I finished school I had my first cricket contract with Boland. Whilst playing cricket at Stellenbosch University, the rugby coached called me one day to tell me that they had an injury on the weekend and asked if I would play for the Junior Stellenbosch rugby team and that I would start on the bench. I said to them that would not be a problem at all started and started the 20 hour train journey from Cape Town to Bloemfontein. The guy who was meant to start then got ill and I then ended up starting for that game. I was subsequently awarded Man of the Match for that game and was asked to play the following weekend.

After two games, the university invited me to senior trials and I made the university second team and then the first team. Jake White was watching some club rugby and invited me to the Springbok under-21 training camp. That’s the moment I realised I wanted to be a professional player.

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The toughest thing you have had to overcome during your career?

Injuries and illness. My first big injury was in 2006 – a spinal fusion. Nearly a career-ending knee injury in 2012 followed by a career-threatening cyst on my spinal cord, which was then followed by a life-threatening bacteria infection. The vicious disease left me in hospital for four months and I was unable to move. I could only just muster the strength to get up to go to the bathroom. I lost 20 kilograms in those 4 months. Just being able to spend time with my family again was amazing let alone playing rugby again.

The proudest moment of your career so far?

The first time playing for the Springboks is an extremely special memory. Playing in four world cups for my country was also incredibly momentous.  Playing my 50th test for South Africa was an extremely fond memory – winning the World Cup in 2007 is right up there. Winning the Tri Nations with South Africa in 2004 is a highlight and, finally, being able to lift the European Champions cup is also a proud moment. But, my proudest moment would have to be when I ran onto the field with my two boys for my last game with the Stormers at Newlands – my home for fourteen years.

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What characteristics do you believe a person needs to be successful?

In rugby, you need resilience – it is probably the most important characteristic to have. Although, as it is a team sport, you need to have a broad spectrum of characteristics to make sure you have longevity in the sport.

Own Schalk's Kit Bag

Introducing Schalk’s holdall, the Giovane from the Maxwell Scott X Saracens collection. Handcrafted in Italy from durable canvas and full grain leather, this black lightweight sports bag is the epitome of quality and class.