It’s been well over two years since the last time we spoke to Sharks hooker Craig Burden. After a frankly superb performance against the Blue Bulls last weekend, Sharksworld caught up with the dynamic hooker for a bit of a catch-up.
“I’m glad we got our campaign back on track,” says Burden of the game last weekend, “after the unfortunate stumble in the first game. Everyone lifted their performances, knowing how important it is to bank all the points we can get at home. The fact that a number of important players are out at the moment meant that others had to front up – and they did that this weekend.” Asked what went wrong against Griquas, Burden reckons “to be honest with you, I think we did underestimate them a little. Once we’d set up our ball, we gave them the opportunity to counter-ruck us; unfortunately we didn’t front up as we should have and that played in their favour. They turned over quite a bit of our ball at the point of breakdown. I think we fixed that against the Bulls, but it’s just unfortunate that we let the game slip out of our hands against Griquas.”
We chatted about Craig’s own game against the old foe and he reckons that scoring any more tries (he was awarded one, but had at least two others ruled out by the TMO) would have been a bonus. “We were helluva happy with our set pieces against the Bulls – I think the scrums went a lot better. All of the forwards played well and we did what we needed to do. It would have been nice if more of the calls had gone my way, but that’s not really the most important thing. As a hooker, especially if you’ve come from the wing, you want to be judged on your performances in the set pieces, not on the number of tries you score.”
Looking to the Pumas, Burden reckons “we’ve watched the Pumas against the Bulls and we know they’re a decent side, with a strong pack and solid set pieces. It’s a home game for us, so we know we’ve got to try and get as many points as we can. There are no easy games, but we’ve got no injuries after last week and feel like we’ve got some momentum – the okes are on a high! Against a side like the Pumas, you don’t want to let them in. You’ve got to get some points on the board early, dominate them and have the game in your hands the whole way.” By my reckoning, all of that translates into a very clear message to the Pumas – watch out!
Burden admitted the earlier part of the season was frustrating. “I felt the Currie Cup went well for me last year – I got quite a lot of game time, but then this year, while going on the Super 14 tour was a great experience and is always a nice thing to do, it probably didn’t do my development the world of good. Being there for five weeks, training five days a week and then getting no more than 3 or 4 minutes of game time was pretty frustrating. Even though I learned a huge amount from John and Bismarck at practice, at the end of the day you can only improve your own game and lift you own bar between the white lines on the field. I think I took a few steps back.” Craig agrees that his time might have been better spent playing regularly for the Vodacom Cup team . “Absolutely,” he says, “any game time is better than no game time. It was quite frustrating, but I knew that the Currie Cup was coming up and it would be a big opportunity for me to show that I’m ready to step up and compete at higher levels.”
We shared a chuckle about his few minutes spent back on the wing as a replacement against the Brumbies. “The backline’s in my past, though and I have no interested in going back there. I’m completely focused on playing hooker.” I pressed Craig on whether he hadn’t considered a move back, perhaps into midfield, given that the Sharks are short of genuine line breakers in the backs, but he dismissed the suggestion, saying “that’s something I’ve got to work at. I want to be getting recognition for the good things I’m doing as a tight forward – for the strong set-piece work – rather than for the odd line break which is a relic of my backline past.” No doubt, then, that Craig Burden is a hooker and first, foremost and exclusively.
The good news for Sharks fans is that Craig Burden is a committed Shark – “it’s the team I’ve been passionate about my whole life,” he says and although there was the option to move to the Lions to get more exposure earlier in the year, he’s definitely staying put in Durban right now and fighting as hard as he can to retain the black and white number 2 jersey. With two Boks ahead of him and the precocious Kyle Cooper banging on the door as well, there’s a huge amount of competition in the squad. “That just drives you to train harder to prove that you deserve a shot. You need to put in big performances to prove your worth, but if you’re not getting a chance to play, then it’s very hard to do that. That was the problem for me at the beginning of the year. But it’s great having strong competition for every position in the squad. You never want to be in the position that you’re wearing the jersey just because there’s nobody else to play!”
I’d like to thank Craig for giving up his time to keep us in the loop and wish him all the best for the season, as well as his ongoing Engineering studies, which he concedes occasionally have to take a back-seat to his rugby career.Tweet