sport

Burger: Blessed to be back

Jacques Burger claims he is blessed to be able to start in a Heineken Cup semi-final for Saracens, just a year after thinking his career could be over.

The flanker will line up in the Twickenham tunnel for Saracens as they take on Clermont Auvergene with a place in Europe’s premier competition at stake.

A year ago, Mark McCall’s side reached the last four of the Heineken Cup to take on another French heavyweight in Toulon, to whom they lost 24-12 in a tight encounter.

Reaching a European semi-final was cause to celebrate for Saracens as they continue to make significant strides forward, but Burger continued to nurse a knee injury which kept him sidelined for two years.

"I remember this time last year we played Toulon and those were very dark days for me," he said. "I was nowhere near fit enough to play and I had to watch from the sidelines.

"It's amazing to think that a year later I'm in this position, you forget about it, once you're back playing you forget how hard it was.

"A lot of people told me it would be tough getting back, I might not ever get back and even if I did get back I might not be as good as I had been before.

"I was lucky I had a great team that supported me - I'm blessed to be back doing what I love and to be playing in the semi-final of the Heineken Cup is just another dream come true."

More than three years on since the Namibian aggravated his right knee in February 2011, Burger is still managing the injury.

Physicality

Despite a prolonged and painful recovery process, Burger has retained his fearless nature and exemplified his physical capabilities by making 37 tackles, a league record, against Exeter Chiefs in November.  

"Everyone has something they're really good at and I'm fortunate that I'm good at the physical part of the game," Burger added.

"I like being involved in the physical battles - I can't change the way I play - I've felt like this for so long now and it's worked for me.

"I think it's part of the reason why I'm picked in this team, everybody has something special that they bring and this is my little job."

Saturday’s showdown at Twickenham is likely to be decided by marginal gains and Burger, who has only received one red card in his career, believes discipline will be a pivotal aspect of the match.

"There are so many things Clermont do well - they have an incredible pack of forwards, a great back-line, and lots of very hard-working guys," Burger claimed.

"There's loads of aspects of the game where they can win it but at the same time we have areas where we can win as well.

"I think it could come down to discipline. We have to avoid giving them any energy with penalties or any go-forward ball with their big carriers.

"We're going to go out there and get stuck in and it's going to be one hell of a battle."