Schalk Burger is experiencing northern hemisphere club rugby for the first time this season but while he admits the differences to south of the equator are stark, the Saracens flanker claims he is enjoying the transition.
After 12 years playing for South African Super Rugby outfit the Stormers, Burger made the switch to Sarries over the summer.
He joined a team coming off the most successful season in their history as Mark McCall’s troops lifted the Aviva Premiership Rugby and European Rugby Champions Cup trophies.
And after starring in the opening exchanges of this campaign for Sarries, the 86-cap Springbok admits he has had to adapt to the more territory-based style of play in the northern hemisphere.
“The difference [between the northern and southern hemisphere] is just mindset and where you play your rugby,” said Burger, speaking at the launch of this year’s Aviva Community Fund alongside team-mates Owen Farrell and Jamie George.
“Over here, more teams want to play the territory game, therefore your structure of exiting is different to what happens in Super Rugby.
“In Super Rugby it’s more about possession – territory doesn’t come into it until maybe later in the game when you’re trying to close it out.
“The work-rate in Super Rugby is different because the work-rate goes into ball carrying, getting the ball in your hand and playing a few phases before trying to exit.
“Here, your work-rate is more into creating a good defensive line, good line-speed and obviously chasing kicks.
“The different style of play doesn’t affect me too much. At the Stormers we got our energy out of carrying the ball, whereas Saracens get their energy in a different way – from exiting while putting teams under pressure.
“The big thing is to align where I expend my energy with the rest of the team. I think I’ve picked that up pretty quickly and it has been really enjoyable to play so far.”
The Aviva Community Fund is a nationwide initiative that lends a helping hand to local communities by offering support and funding for inspirational local causes, clubs and projects.
It has already benefited over 320,000 people, through 431 winning projects across the UK, and this year, local grassroots sports clubs can apply or reapply for funding in a new, sport-specific category.
And Burger believes that grassroots rugby is the lifeblood of the sport.
“I think your favourite memories about rugby are when you first picked up a ball and just started running with it – whether it was in the right direction or not,” he added.
“You’re spending time with your best mates and obviously you’ve got some good coaches looking after you but the main thing is just about enjoyment.
“That’s what rugby should be all about. I think the Aviva Community Fund is on the right track – it’s about helping the grassroots.
“Rugby is the ultimate team sport and when I look back on my career, I’ve learned more from playing rugby than I have from life itself.”
At 33 years old and having won the World Cup with South Africa in 2007, Burger is one of the more experienced heads in the Saracens dressing room but he has been impressed by the young talent on show at the club.
“Saracens won Europe and the Aviva Premiership, so these players are super-talented,” he added. “They’re at a good age as well – in their mid-20s.
“They are hard-working and the days where certain countries have superior athletes are gone.
“The blokes here are super-talented athletes and they’ve got a great attitude about improving and working on their weaknesses.
“For me, there has been a nice energy since coming in and changing teams. You get to a stage where you need to change things up and get a bit of extra energy, so I’m feeding off them and learning a new culture over here.”
Premiership Rugby and the 12 Aviva Premiership Rugby Clubs are supporting the Aviva Community Fund, a nationwide initiative which offers funding of up to £25,000 to grassroots sports clubs and other community organisations close to your heart. Enter at aviva.co.uk/community-fund from September 13.