Exchanging the wide-open spaces of the outside back position for the coalface of the front row is a move that few, if indeed any, professional rugby players have even attempted, much less successfully negotiated. Sharksworld was fortunate enough to catch up with a young man who is well on his way to achieving the transition.
Craig Bruce Burden was born in Durban in 1985 and will turn 23 in May this year. He learned his rugby at one of the traditional Midlands powerhouses of the game, Maritzburg College, probably the only school in the world to have produced two World-Cup winning flyhalves. Burden burst onto the scene in 2006 with a number of promising performances on the wing, prompting the following to appear in the Independant of July 29 that year:
“Craig Burden has been one of the most impressive wings in the Currie Cup so far, hitting opposition lines with countless bullocking runs, and endearing himself to Sharks fans in the process. The Maritzburg College old boy has made the step up from Under 21 rugby, and is now looking to cement his place in the Sharks team. “
It seemed that all was on track, but then Burden disappeared off the scene. The talk was that he was at the Murray Mexted Academy in New Zealand and that he was going to come back, not only a better player, but also in a completely different position. We asked Craig what prompted the switch.
“Dick Muir called me in for a meeting”, he tells us, “and he suggested that in terms of furthering my career, he thought that hooker was a position better suited for me. At first I was a bit skeptical, as it’s a big change, but he was very enthusiastic about it. He was prepared to send me to the Murray Mexted Academy and I had the backing of all the management. And it was just up to me to get going in the new position. I thought it a great move, after I saw the reasons why he wanted me to move. ”
What were those reasons? We all thought that he was doing bloody well at wing and would probably be an even better outside centre. Burden is pragmatic, though, conceding “I think maybe out-and-out pace on the wing was something I lacked, particularly at Super 14 level. Rather be a fast hooker than a slow wing.” He continues “Dick thought that in terms of the type of game I played, he saw me getting more involved in the tighter play and thought I would be more suited to a hooker role. He sees a hooker playing as an extra loose forward and I think that gave him the idea. I’m really enjoying it at the moment.”
Burden was clearly impressed at what he learned in New Zealand. “You’re working with top class coaches, Paul Mitchell, Richard Loe, Eddie Jones and Ian Jones. It was about building a solid foundation. I really felt I learned a lot about the basics, in terms of scrumming, running lines, your game and structure from a hooker’s perspective. From there the plan was for me to come on as an impact player in the Super 14. I was very lucky to get some game time in the Currie Cup.”
We then talked about how he feels he’s adapting to the new position. “The finer details of playing hooker, like the lineouts, takes a lot of work. It’s not something you can perfect on your own, more needing a full group of forwards there to practice and get your timing right. That comes right through game time and experience. I feel I lacked that in the Currie Cup, but I was satisfied in terms of my scrumming and my tighter play.”
We asked Craig if he feels he has any particular strengths and weaknesses relative to other guys in the same position, given where he has come from. “I feel I am behind in terms of scrummaging and lineouts, which comes with time. It’s definitely something I’ve got to work on. Coming from the backline, I’m happy with my speed and my fitness. I wouldn’t want to sacrifice that. I’d rather contribute something in the loose play as well as having a solid foundation in the basics of playing hooker.
“Working with guys like Bismarck du Plessis, his brother Jannie, BJ Botha, every training session you learn more and more and more. For me, getting the lineouts right is the part I’ve really got to focus on. Lineouts are a crucial part of the game. I’m really happy with my progress in terms of scrumming and that just comes from practicing with and learning from the best guys ”
And what of the new laws? He reckons “the new laws are definitely going to put emphasis on speed and mobility – you can see that in the first few rounds already. The game is a lot faster: free kicks, with quick taps taken, retreating quickly. Fitness wise and speed wise, everyone will need to step up a level. It’s going to be a lot faster and a lot more open. ”
Asked about his aspirations for the future, Craig is keen to get as much Super 14 gametime under his belt as he can and then see what the Currie Cup holds. “You’re playing against top internationals every week and you learn so much as a result. I just want to be on the field as much as I can and learn as much as I can about my new position. I want to get my lineout work up to scratch and make an impact in my position in the Super 14. That’s the role I’ve been given”
Off the field, Craig is kept pretty busy juggling his rugby commitments and his engineering studies. He likes to play the odd round of golf and go to the beach, but reckons time to settle down with an particular love interest in not something he can really accommodate right now… sounds like there’s an open invitation for somebody to prove him wrong! “You’ve got to keep your focus on the field,” is all he has to say about that.
We’d like to thank Craig Burden for taking the time to speak to Sharksworld and wish him all the best for the future. I think, if anything, his performance at Loftus in the second half proved that the only way is up.Tweet