Schalk Burger says he is reinvigorated and champing at the bit to return to the pitch and lead the Stormers to their maiden Super Rugby title.
The fit-again Springbok flank was on Wednesday reinstated as captain of the Cape-based franchise, with Springbok skipper Jean de Villiers to serve as vice-captain.
Burger has been sidelined for over a year following a knee injury he sustained in the opening round clash against the Hurricanes last season.
The 29-year-old said he is honoured to regain the captaincy but played down his appointment, saying his role will be simplified by leaders such as De Villiers and Currie Cup-winning captain Deon Fourie and several experienced campaigners.
"Obviously it is nice captaining the side again but it is not about me, we have got a great group of experienced leaders and as a team we lead the team together, I have just got to do some post-match interviews and keep you guys [media] happy,” Burger said on Wednesday.
"I feel reasonably good but obviously pre-season is a very tough time. It is good to be out on the rugby field, last year was a bit of a disaster so I am looking forward to it [the start of the season].”
Burger said his injury-enforced lay-off gave him ample rest to heal a number for niggling injuries and reignited his passion for the game.
"Obviously for me I have got to try and get my conditioning to a level where I can be playing some good rugby again. I have got a lot of energy having spent a year on the sidelines which gives you some extra motivation so I am looking forward to the season,” he said.
Burger added that he would curb his enthusiasm and pace himself as best as possible when he does return to the field as to lessen the risk of re-injuring himself.
"Always when you get back from injury there is still a little bit of doubt so I don't want to create any expectations for myself, but you get yourself into form by training well and putting in the hard yards makes it a lot easier,” he said.
"I am just really looking forward to playing rugby again, a lot of the time when you are playing week-in week-out it is easy to become one-dimensional and get a bit stale, but having spent 12 months away from rugby hopefully I have got a little bit of a different outlook on it and can put that to good use this season.”
The hard-as-nails Springbok veteran admitted that the rehabilitation process was often difficult both mentally and physically.
"I think every second person I walked past when I was doing grocery shopping asked me 'are you still playing rugby or have you retired?'
"Obviously it is tough - we are rugby players and we want to play rugby, so when you do get a bad injury like I had it is tough to deal with.
"It was fantastic in a personal capacity obviously to spend some time with my wife and my little kid, I can tell you that I am an expert on the nappy drill, but spending this week with the team you realise how much you miss rugby so it is nice to be back on the field running around and hopefully I can play some proper rugby this year.
"I am taking the view that this was kind of my sabbatical, and if the knee holds up hopefully I can play rugby now until 2025.”
Although Burger missed out on Western Province’s Currie Cup triumph last year, he said it could be the springboard the Stormers need to finally clinch the elusive Super Rugby title.
"I think it is a big thing for the team mentally, we have created a lot of opportunities throughout our title drought and unfortunately it just didn't come our way so I think it is a nice step in the right direction mentally.
"Super Rugby is a big competition so hopefully we can put ourselves in contention, and then hopefully this time we can win a semi and a final. It is still a long season and you don't want to jump the gun so we will take this competition week by week.”
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