When last did anyone actually see Craig Burden spend any time on a rugby field – during a game, I mean?
Looking at the statistics, the former winger, who turns 25 next month, has played for exactly 16 minutes so far in this year’s Super 14. The three times he has come on (bearing in mind he’s the hooker replacement) he has played at loose forward (for five minutes against the Chiefs and eight minutes against the Lions) and at wing (three minutes against the Brumbies). The only game time he’s actually had in his primary position is the 73 minutes he played for the Sharks XV against Eastern Province the the Vodacom Cup a few weeks ago.
When we chatted to Burden back in 2008, he spoke of the leap of faith that Dick Muir persuaded him to take in converting to hooker – how the former coach felt he might lack a little top-end pace to be a really good wing, but that he has the attributes to succeed in the middle of the scrum. One can only conclude that the current coaching structures at the Sharks do not share Muir’s vision in this regard, since through their refusal to allow Burden any time to play at hooker, they are effectively scuppering any chance he may have had of successfully adapting to the position.
Burden has shown, every time he has been on the field, that he is a rare player – one who has the mythical “X-factor” so craved by coaches and fans alike. To have a player like that under contract, yet not play him, is simply criminal and it cannot be emphasised enough that, in order for him to get his lineouts under control and improve the tighter aspects of his game at hooker, he simply has to be playing in that position every single week. Even if John Plumtree and his lieutenants don’t feel comfortable with using Burden in the Super 14 (which they really should, because he’s played there before) then they should at least let him play every week for the Vodacom Cup side. Time is no longer on anyone’s side here and I know that the player is becoming increasingly frustrated with his lack of progress. Former mentor Muir is desperately keen to lure Burden to the Lions, while there are bound to be plenty of offers on the table from further North as well.
The truly bizarre thing, though, is that the Sharks now find themselves utterly devoid of any three quarters who are able to break the line, while one of the most promising and exciting attacking options we have now languishes on the bench as a hooker replacement who never gets to play hooker. It’s time for the management to have the balls to do one of two things – either give Burden the opportunities he needs to develop in the number 2 jersey, or reverse the decision to convert him and let’s see what he can do at outside centre in the Currie Cup.
One thing is for sure: trying to now use him as a utility loose-forward replacement when we already have umpteen good youngsters vying for that spot is simply madness.Tweet