LEGENDARY Springbok back rower Schalk Burger has called England to win the 2019 Six Nations but believes the injury loss of Maro Itoje will be keenly felt.
The most-capped South African flanker of all time plays alongside Itoje at Saracens, where the two won the Gallagher Premiership title together last season.
The 35-year-old Springbok watched on at the weekend as 24-year-old prodigal lock Itoje helped England thump Ireland 32-20 in Dublin, turning the Six Nations formbook on its head.
But Itoje, long talked about as a future England captain, had to leave the field with a knee ligament injury in the second half of that match.
He missed his sideis 44-8 routing of France and will also be absent from their clash against Wales next time around.
Burger commented: “[Ireland] was a great performance by the Sarries boys but unfortunately Maro got injured so he’ll be out for a while.
“England are losing a good player in Maro. It’s like when Billy’s (Vunipola’s) out for a long time, you lose a great player. But then the team moves on and the game moves on and the next bloke’s got to step up.
“Whenever there’s a big injury there’s a chance for someone else to come in and show what he’s made of, and that’s what England need now.
“I think England’s tough challenge will be Wales away, that’s going to be brutally tough and I think Wales are looking difficult to beat in Cardiff. But if I had to call someone I’d predict England to win the Six Nations!”
Whilst many of us are glued to the Six Nations at this time of year with plenty of national interest at stake, 2004 World Player of the Year Burger doesn’t have much skin in the game – other than his many Saracens teammates in the England squad.
With this being a World Cup year though Burger, who conquered the world with the Springboks in 2007, is interested to see how the northern hemisphere sides are performing.
And whilst we were all mesmerised by England’s stirring performances that may have announced Eddie Jones’ men as World Cup contenders, does Burger think his compatriots back home are taking notice?
“No, not really! We start our Super Rugby season in February so they’ve got enough to worry about down there,” added Burger, who was speaking at an event where Harrow RFC won an appearance from Saracens by describing how their team embodies the spirit of rugby, both on and off the pitch, and helps grow game the locally; organised by Gallagher as part of its ‘Heroes of the Game’ campaign.
“They’ll all be focused on the South African franchises playing well in Super Rugby, they won’t be interested in what’s going on here.
“The South Africa coaching staff will all watch the Six Nations matches though because this is the highest intensity England will play before the World Cup.
“We have that advantage in the southern hemisphere that we go straight from Super Rugby into the Test Championship, then straight into World Cup – it sort of ramps up.
“Playing the All Blacks away is always at a huge intensity and that’s the ideal preparation for a World Cup – which is then a step higher.”
Schalk Burger was speaking at a Gallagher ‘Train with your Heroes’ session at Harrow RFC after their U14s side won a nationwide competition launched by Gallagher, a passionate community insurance broker and proud title partner of Premiership Rugby.
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