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One of the new breed of Australian online rugby writers, Brett McKay joins ESPNscrum.com having developed a popular presence on sports opinion site The Roar. He also tweets from @BMcSport.

The Whiteboard
The Schalk Burger show was one with the lot
Brett McKay
March 13, 2014
The Whiteboard ... Brett McKay dissects key plays that may shape the Super Rugby tournament © Scrum.com
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I made mention in #Scrum5 on Monday that the return of Stormers flanker Schalk Burger was just something else. After playing 33 minutes in the Stormers' opening game of the season, against the Lions, and not at all in their first home game, against the Hurricanes, Burger was thrust straight back into the starting side for the Stormers' first game on tour for 2014.

It was like he'd never been out of the game, never mind out for the best part of two years; he smashed attacking runners, he smashed into would-be Crusaders tacklers, he was abrasive, he threw his bulk around, and generally announced himself back in the top flight in spectacular fashion.

And the impact was enormous. His 15 runs for 18 metres meant all the work he did was in the tight stuff. A couple of offloads. A couple of turnovers. A bulking presence in the Stormers' breakdown work, imposing himself at any given opportunity, inflicting carnage in both attack and defence.

He lashed out in an early ruck in an all-too-familiar fashion, at a couple of Crusaders trying to hold onto him, yet actually won the penalty. He can probably be thankful on that front that an almighty uppercut that he unleashed finished as an air-swing; had it connected, he surely would've earned a yellow card as did Melbourne Rebels opensider Scott Fuglistaller the week before.

By the second half, Burger just having the ball was enough to put the Crusaders defence in two minds, and in this week's edition of The Whiteboard, I'm going to take a closer look at that passage of play that led to the Stormers' try in the second half, which in the context of the game, looked like it might've been enough to secure a hard-fought win. That wasn't to be, of course, but that passage was no less important.

Ironically, it all started from a Burger knock-on in the Crusaders' half. From the scrum, which took a bit of time to form, Crusaders' fly-half Tom Taylor kicked deep into the Stormers' half, where their pint-sized winger Gio Aplon fielded the kick around 30m out from his own line, before returning the favour and launching the ball back toward the Crusaders' 22.

The kicking back-and-forth continued, with both sides attempting to make ground, but with neither really getting anywhere. A Stormers' kick was touched off the boot, and Crusaders scrum-half Willie Heinz picked up from a similar spot to where Taylor first kicked from.

Sensing there might be ground to be made in the opposite Stormers corner, Heinz kicked a low-trajectory, almost grubber kick to just inside the Stormers' 40m. In truth, it probably wasn't the kick that the potential opportunity needed. Burger had tracked across field to clean up, and ended up taking the ball ahead of his captain, Jean de Villiers, who had dropped back to the corner.

The commentary of Sky Sport New Zealand's Tony Johnson at that moment as Burger began his run summed up his brilliant game to date: "Now Burger. He's done just about everything in this game, appears now as another fullback..."

From roughly 20 metres in from touch, Burger looked up, and started scanning his options as he moved forward. De Villiers tracked in behind Burger, taking up a line a few metres inside the burly flanker.

Seeing two defenders immediately ahead of him - Taylor, and flanker Matt Todd - Burger headed back on a similar angle from where the ball was kicked, which coincided with the arrival of Heinz, who had followed his kick.

Burger continued back toward the opposite corner, and sensing that Heinz was about to over-commit and leave space inside him, offloaded inside to de Villiers.

Schalk Burger's read of the Crusaders' defence was superb © Scrum.com
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De Villiers stormed through the sizable gap untouched, and got to well inside the Crusaders' 40m where he perfectly drew Crusaders fullback Colin Slade, chipping ahead over the All Blacks midfielder.

De Villiers's centre partner, Damien de Allende, who had started his own run from further infield than his skipper, ran ahead trailing the kick, won the race to the ball with Crusaders winger Johnny McNicholl, and crashed over to score to the left of the uprights.

It was a beautiful play that had come from nowhere, but superbly executed by a couple of genuine greats of the modern game.

The knowledge from de Villiers of what his former high school team-mate was about to do, was crucial in the play. With not even so much as a call, or even a gesture, de Villiers saw the opportunity open up in front of him, and positioned himself perfectly just back off Burger's hip.

Jean de Villiers (r) reaped the benefit of knowing his team-mate so well © Scrum.com
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But it was the vision of Burger, and his ability to quickly work out how he could create the opportunity for de Villiers, that made the play. The still shot above shows it perfectly; Burger only has eyes for where Heinz is coming from, and knowing that Todd and Taylor already have him lined up, it then just becomes a matter of drawing Heinz to create the space for de Villiers on the inside.

And it perfectly illustrated Burger's impact on the game, too. Such was his dominance on the field, the Crusaders defenders knew they had to shut him down at all costs. But so blinding was that commitment on Burger, that they didn't even notice de Villiers and de Allende on his inside.

"Well Schalk Burger really has done everything in this game now..." Johnson would conclude, quite aptly.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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