RUGBY WORLD CUP 2015 | The Bionic Man
'To play the Pacific Nations... basically at the end of it you feel like you have been in a car crash.' Thus spoke Jonny 'That Kick' Wilkinson, World Cup winner in 2003, in the brand new documentary 'Pacific Warriors'. After the Namibia vs. Tonga bruisefest, there's at least one man who can relate: Namibian skipper and talisman Jacques Burger, also known as the human wrecking ball.
He wasn't even supposed to make it to this tournament. The last two years of his career were blighted by 60 injuries, as his kamikaze approach to tackling seemed to be taking its toll. He carries a bag of bolts and screws in his training bag, to remind him of the machinery that's keeping his joints together. Though when he takes to the field, he forgets about his battered body. This man thrives in the contact, flying into his opponents with a disregard for his own wellbeing. He doesn't just get back to his feet. He's smiling, balancing on the tightrope between pleasure and pain.
The 2007 World Cup gave a huge boost to his career. After an impressive display against Ireland he was contacted by the Bulls, one of South Africa's major rugby franchises. During his time at Loftus Versfeld, homeground of Pretorian rugby, they were the best team in the Super 14, winning three titles in four years. Brendan Venter, Saracens' South African head coach, brought him to the club in the 2009/2010 season. He quickly gained a reputation as one of the English Premiership's hardest hitters, averaging about 30 tackles per match. Nowadays he's a cult figure in the club, leading them to Premiership glory last season.
Burger was named in the 2011 World Cup Team of the Tournament, in spite of Namibia's poor record at rugby's showpiece event: come 2015, they are still looking for that elusive first win. The bookmakers are not optimistic about their chances: in the professional era, it seems unlikely that a team which features a stock broker and a plumber will claim a World Cup scalp. Their upcoming clash with Georgia is the last chance to send their captain off with a win. This is his last crusade: after the World Cup he will retire, because he wants to fulfill an active role in the life of his children. 'I'd play for another fifty years if I could, but it's just not possible', he said in a recent interview.
When it comes to ferocious tackling, there's another legendary flanker that comes to mind: Jerry Collins. The former All Black and his wife passed away this summer after a tragic car crash, leaving their child an orphan. Collins was once asked how he felt after a game of hard hits. 'When two cars collide, there's bound to be some damage on both sides', was his answer. When Namibia lines up against Georgia, Jacques Burger's opposite number will be Mamuka 'Gorgodzilla' Gorgodze. There's bound to be some damage on both sides.