Rugby: Burger relishing Saracens trip to Dublin
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Schalk Burger views Saracens’ rout by Clermont earlier in the season as the “thunderbolt moment” that has guided their path to Dublin on Sunday.
The champions continue their pursuit of a third successive European Cup crown when they face favourites Leinster in a daunting quarter-final at the Aviva Stadium.
In mid-December Saracens’ title defence teetered on the brink of collapse following a record 46-16 home defeat by Clermont, a result that served as the nadir of a seven-match losing run.
They lost to the feared French giants again a week later, but a battling performance at the Stade Marcel-Michelin restored belief amid a realisation that change was needed.
“This season has had its challenges. We had that thunderbolt moment when he lost at home to Clermont,” said former South Africa flanker Burger.
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“In every season there’s a game where you’re just not on it for some reason and the score blows you out of the water. We’re humans aren’t we?
“If we look back now that was probably a bit of a turning point. If you do the same things for such a long time and get good results, it’s easy to become complacent.
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“The opposition catch up or maybe a rule changes or the implementation by the referees changes and then you have to adapt the way you play to try to get ascendancy back again.
“It was good for us to just sit down and simplify our way forward. That’s quite a nice process, I like that.
“It speaks volumes of a group if you can turn it around because it would be easier to disintegrate.
“Dublin is another of this season’s challenges. Leinster are an exceptional side, playing really great football. But these are the type of team that embraces these sort of challenges.”
While Stuart Lancaster’s Leinster have been invigorated by their role in Ireland’s Grand Slam success, Saracens’ sizeable England contingent have been licking their wounds after a dismal fifth-place finish in the NatWest 6 Nations.
“Obviously our boys have come back from a bit of a disappointing campaign, but then Saracens is their home,” added Burger.
“I have been in their situation many times before. It is the first time they are going through it under Eddie Jones. These things happen.
“I used to play in the old Tri-Nations where you play twice against the All Blacks and twice against the Wallabies. Without doing much wrong you lose four on the bounce.
“But the wheel turns and six months, or a couple of months even, is a long time in sport, especially rugby.”
Burger, who is set to extend his Saracens stay until 2019, relishes trips to Dublin and has his own objective in mind post-match.
“Over the years I’ve learned where the good Guinness runs are so (director of rugby) Mark McCall doesn’t know this but I might sneak into a quiet place at some stage!” Burger said.
“They do Guinness a lot better than they do down in Cape Town. It definitely tastes better in Dublin.”