DHL Stormers flanker Schalk Burger has given an update on his well-being, after his long battle with injury and illness.
Burger, the 2011 SA Rugby Player of the Year, missed all of 2012 with a knee injury – before straining his calf muscle at the Stormers’ pre-season training camp in Hermanus earlier this year.
He then went under the knife to reduce pressure on a nerve that was influencing the performance of his calf muscle (which, it was discovered, was connected to a cyst in his back) and that is when he contracted bacterial meningitis.
Since then, Burger has been through some tough times – which saw him spend a total of six weeks in hospital and another eight weeks indoors. However, the popular Western Province, Stormers and Springbok star was in good spirits when addressing the media in Cape Town on Monday afternoon.
“Obviously there has been a lot of speculation, but basically what happened was I started training with the DHL Stormers at the beginning of this year and I felt reasonably good,” said Burger at DHL Newlands.
“After a while, after about 40 minutes of training or so, probably the equivalent of about 3km of running, I felt some spasticity in my left calf and when that happened I started to pull up because I was scared that I would tear or pull my calf muscle.
“Eventually I went for a back scan and it showed up that I had a cyst in my back right next to my spinal chord. I went in for an operation to relieve the pressure by draining the cyst, and unfortunately I picked up a hospital bug which led to bacterial meningitis.
“There was a critical stage for about four, nearly five days in which there was a lot of uncertainty. Obviously through that period I was in isolation and I was seriously ill… in fact, so ill that some people around me thought, ‘This is it’.
“Luckily I got through that and also draining the cyst wasn’t good enough, so they had to come up with a new gameplan and that was actually removing the cyst.”
Speaking further about his various operations, which then saw the cyst removed entirely, Burger explained: “Unfortunately after that I had to have another three back operations. Where I am at now is that I am busy recovering, the cyst has been removed completely – so I am (still) just recovering from the bacterial meningitis.
“At the moment my rehabilitation consists of cycling and walking. I am seeing my specialist again in seven weeks’ time when I will enter the next phase of my rehabilitation.
“I don’t think there are words to describe how frustrating it is,” added the 88-times capped DHL Stormers star. “Obviously if you play rugby that is what you want to do, and when you don’t play that is the most frustrating part.
“Any player will say that they love rugby and they hate the injuries and rehabilitation part of it. I have been doing that part now for a year and three months so it needs to end now. Hopefully my bad run is done now and I can finish off my career on a bit of a high.”
Burger – who has won 68 Springbok caps since 2003 – cannot give an exact timeline over a potential return to the playing-field, but he remains determined to make a comeback to rugby in 2013.
“I am quietly confident of playing rugby again this year, but I can’t give a clear indication until that time arrives. At the moment I am still in a recuperation phase, because obviously I was very, very ill, but it’s just a matter of time now,” he said.
“All-in-all I was in hospital for six weeks, and then indoors for eight weeks and I have been outdoors for a couple of days now only,” added Burger.
“I have obviously had phenomenal family time with my wife and the little one. So there is always a positive, but at the end of the day I want to play some rugby… and I’d love to play (again) for as long as possible!
“You don’t want to over-commit yourself to it, in seven weeks from now I have got another check-up and then we will enter the next phase of rehabilitation. So I am not going to stand here and say, ‘Yes it’s a definite’ – but obviously that’s what I am aiming for.”
Burger, in typical manner, revealed the extent of his rehabilitation at present: “I am cycling very lightly and then sitting in the sauna having a chat. If you guys want to have a chat in the Claremont gym it gets a little lonely there! This morning I walked up to Newlands Forest… so I try to mix it up a bit.”
Meanwhile, when asked about Burger’s future in Cape Town, WP Rugby CEO Rob Wagner said: “Schalk Burger is a very special son of Western Province rugby. He has been here for longer than he can remember I think, going back to Under-13 rugby.
“He has been a model professional rugby player, someone who has made it quite clear where his loyalties lie, and certainly is hugely appreciated by Western Province Rugby,” added Wagner.
“This has always been an issue that Schalk needed to put across to the public through the media (himself). We respect his position and we have respected a very long period of recovery going right back to February 25, 2012.
“He has a contract until the end of 2014. Both Western Province Rugby and Schalk would like to see him go through until the end of that contract.”