SCHALK Burger will jet in from Tokyo on Saturday to answer a Springbok SOS after flank Francois Louw was ruled out of the remainder of the Rugby Championship on Tuesday.
Louw sustained a pinched nerve in his neck and is expected to be out of action for two months, news that will not please English club side Bath.
Burger will play for Suntory Sungoliath in a league match on Friday before jetting to SA to join the Springboks where they will start preparing for next weekend’s match against the Wallabies at Newlands.
Burger’s inclusion is hardly a surprise as he was part of the June series against Wales and Scotland, and was always likely to make an appearance in the final two weeks of the championship if needed.
His contract terms with Suntory are similar to those of fellow Japan-based Bok JP Pietersen, who was also recalled to the squad earlier this week in place of the injured Ruan Pienaar.
But against an unhappy political backdrop, Burger might inadvertently find himself at the centre of a transformation row.
Teboho “Oupa” Mohoje, the only other fit flank in the squad, should by rights be the man to start next weekend. It could happen, but if coach Heyneke Meyer opts to start Burger despite some sound rugby reasons for going that route, it will inevitably lead to further questions about why Mohoje is even in the squad.
Meyer picked Mohoje on potential based on a handful of Super Rugby games rather than evidence from an extensive body of work.
It is a situation that was done with the right intentions but has turned into a political hot potato. Even Archbishop Desmond Tutu wants to know why talented youngsters such as Mohoje are being overlooked.
Meyer now has to back the instincts that led him to choose Mohoje, and give him a run against Australia next week, or if he overlooks Mohoje, he has to provide sound reasons why.
Either way it is not ideal at a time when the Springboks desperately need a win following two defeats in Australasia.
Losing Louw is a huge blow for the Boks as he has been one of the best defenders in the competition, while his ability to steal and slow the ball at the breakdown has been vital.
Burger, who spent much of his career operating as an openside for the Springboks, plays a similar way to Louw and comes with the added bonus of 71 Test caps’ worth of experience. His ability to play openside should, purely on rugby grounds, see him start ahead of Mohoje.
“With Willem Alberts still out injured, Schalk’s versatility helps as he can cover any position in the loose trio,” Meyer said. “Schalk played a superb role in June mentoring the younger players in the squad, and he’ll be able to carry on with that especially with players such as Warren Whiteley and Mohoje, who has shown massive improvement after only playing in a handful of Super Rugby matches and making his Test debut earlier this season.”