Schalk Burger senior at his Welbedacht wine estate
The hulking presence of Schalk Burger senior emerges at the door, filling almost in its entirety every inch of the mighty frame of the old Cape Dutch Manor House of his vineyard in a town called Wellington, around 45 minutes from Cape Town.
The years are beginning to catch up with him. The throbbing pain of a prolapsed disc in his lower back partially restricts his movement and yet he still exudes that teak-tough air of a forward from the generation who were untroubled by the fear of any intervention by television match officials.
You can always tell by the hands. Willie John McBride’s are the same. These men may not be of the same height and stature of the modern day professional but even in their later years have a formidable physical presence.
Burger, a former lock with first Western Province and then Eastern Province only won six caps for the Springboks because of the impact of his country’s sporting isolation during the apartheid years, winning his first two caps against the touring England side in 1984.
He may be in his 66th year, but you suspect that his son, Schalk junior, who won 86 caps for the Springboks and was a World Cup winner in 2007, still knows who is the boss of the family.
Schalk Burger junior won 86 caps for the Springboks and was a World Cup winner in 2007
Credit: Alex Livesey
“Junior was destined to be a cricketer,” chuckles Schalk senior. “He was a talented batsman and he could bowl a bit too. It was only when he was picked for the South African Under-20s side that rugby became serious for him.”
There are many tributes to remarkable achievements of his son framed on the walls of his Welbedacht wine estate, including images of him in action in 2009 when the Springboks defeated the Lions on their last tour here.
And yet, in the midst of this compelling Test series, Burger reveals one of his proudest accomplishments is the contribution he is making to help raise funds for the charity of one the Lions most celebrated sons, former Scotland lock Doddie Weir, who is suffering from motor neurone disease and raising funds for research and to raise awareness about the illness.
The unlikely partnership came together when Burger was approached by former England wing Simon Halliday about producing the wine for Weir following discussions with former Scotland wing Kenny Logan, his former team-mate, who is working on behalf of the foundation ‘My Name’5 Doddie’.
"It is a great honour to be involved with Doddie and all tight forwards for me have a special relationship,” said Burger, whose vineyard has produced a number of award-winning wines.
"I have been privileged to play for my country and to meet guys who have been selected for the Lions, to play against them and become friends with them and to try and help his foundation make money to help others, it is a no brainer.
"As South Africans, we like to think that we play the game hard, but fair and honest – and we like to help people who share the same principles. And any lock that comes to me who is in trouble, I will help.
"In the dark art of playing lock forward, especially in my days, to finish a game you had to survive it first. There were people trying to take you out. But I believe in the tight forwards, there is a difference. It’s like a war, people who try to kill one another.
"But rugby for me, is more than a game – it transcends sport and the older you get the more you realise – maybe I should have done here, or there. But you don’t always have the opportunity to do that. I am honoured to be able to make a contribution to Doddie.
"The wine is all set to exemplify this wonderful spirit that is between South Africa and the Lions. And maybe my kids and Doddie’s kids will one day have a business going on with this.
"You can buy your Doddie wine and drink it during the tour, or cellar it. You can sit in a pub and get a bottle of Doddie’s wine and talk about him or this tour."
As the pair both wore the number 5 shirt, the wine has been produced from a blend of five grapes, with £5 from every bottle sold going to Weir’s MND charity.
The Tartan label has also been designed by Henry Fraser, the former Saracens academy member who was paralysed from the neck down aged just 17 after a tragic diving accident in 2009 and now pains with a brush held in his mouth.
A fire at the wine estate and the alcohol ban in South Africa that was only lifted on Sunday night has made the production and delivery of the wine a major challenge. But the first deliveries of ‘Doddie’5 Red Blend’ arrived in the UK last Friday.
Burger says Doddie Weir 'is a hero for fighting for so many others to find a cure for MND'
Credit: STUART NICOL
“This is the most worthwhile project I have been involved in whether sport or business, no question as sports people we know how fortunate we are so what better way to give something back,” said Halliday. “Wine, sport, charity and friendship – what a lovely combination.
“Doddie is a hero for fighting for so many others to find a cure for MND.”
Weir may have played a part in the Lions tour that culminated in a victory over the Springboks in 1997, but with this Test series on a knife edge and both camps engaged in mind games, Burger only sees honour and respect for both players who are putting their bodies on the line.
“We all know that the forwards are the most diverse group of players with each one having to do a specific job to be successful as a pack,” he added.
“So Doddie, my friend, this wine was made with the passion of a lock combining all the support we need as a unit to perform, and may this piece be a small thank you for the way you are treating adversity, helping others, and now through wine allowing more people to help your cause.
“I salute you in the name of friendship, knowing that the game we played and love creates a special kind of human spirit, just like wine transcends all the bad. Only a fellow lock could end by saying, ‘I love you.’”