EASTBOURNE, England (Reuters) - Rugby World Cup fever might be all-pervading on the eve of the tournament but a brush with death has given South Africa’s Schalk Burger a more measured outlook, he said on Tuesday.
The fiery blond-haired flanker, voted the world’s top player in 2004, lay in a critical condition in hospital just over two years ago with bacterial meningitis after having a cyst removed.
But the 32-year-old has made a remarkable recovery to be selected for his fourth World Cup.
“I guess (my) perspective has changed. When I got injured rugby was pretty much dominating my life but since then a lot of things have happened,” Burger said.
“I’ve got a small little family now -- two boys -- and obviously I went through my own ordeal and now rugby is a smaller part (of my life). It’s still important but it’s easier to keep perspective and break away from the game now and then.” Burger won the Comeback of the Year prize at the Laureus World Sports Awards in May. He returned for the Springboks last year after a three-year absence and, if selected, will earn an 80th cap in Saturday’s Pool B match against Japan in Brighton.
“It’s fantastic to be at a fourth World Cup and obviously I didn’t think this would be possible,” Burger said.
”We are just looking forward to get the competition started. This last month feels like such a long preparation period. I can’t wait for the game to start.
“World Cups are tough, every game seems like a final. You’ve got to get through the pool stage and then that quarter-final week the intensity increases 10-fold. I’ve lost in two quarter-finals and don’t want that to happen again. The desire is as big as ever.”
Burger, a member of the World Cup-winning side eight years ago, has been through the mill in more than a decade at the top with a myriad of injuries but displayed blistering form for the Stormers in Super Rugby this season. “This group differs quite a bit from where we were in 2007 although there are a lot of us that were part of the World Cup in 2011. What’s important is to establish the way we want to play and how to win games. Once we do that, this team has a chance to go far in this tournament,” Burger said.
Editing by Ed Osmond