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Crusader first five Fergus Burke taking his starting opportunity with Mo'unga absent

By Ben Smith
(Photo by Martin Hunter/Photosport)

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The main beneficiary of Richie Mo’unga’s absence has been young Crusaders first five Fergus Burke who is getting significant game time in the 10 jersey with the star All Black taking time off.

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Burke had his second start of his career against the Hurricanes, but it was the first one against a Kiwi franchise after his game against the Western Force last year in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.

He has been named to start again in the Southern Derby against the Highlanders on Friday night at Forsyth Barr after a steady hand in guiding the Crusaders to a 42-32 win over the Hurricanes.

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“I probably say it was quite similar,” Burke told media earlier this week comparing the two starting experiences.

“The nerves were definitely there. Obviously on my first start as well, it was my first start.

“But I feel like as you say that occasion was a bit bigger with it being the Hurricanes Round 1 but they probably compare pretty similarly. I was pretty fired up for both of them but also pretty nervous.”

Burke got valuable experience playing under the roof in Dunedin against the Hurricanes on neutral turf, something that will prepare him well for playing the Highlanders on their home ground this week. He said he was ‘pretty happy’ with the performance which was a great confidence builder.

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“It was a good game. I guess I take a lot of confidence out of it. I’m pretty happy with the way it went for most of it. Quite a lot of confidence, to be fair,” he said.

The benefit of playing under the roof helped settled his game, knowing what the conditions would be like on the dry, fast track.

“Obviously you wake up in the morning and look out the window here in Queenstown and it was heavy rain, a bit windy, and it’s something you don’t have to worry about,” he said.

“You’re going down there, you know what the conditions are going to be like, you know what style of footy you can get away with playing. I definitely think that
kind of maybe took a little off my shoulders.”

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What would usually be a loud raucous Stadium ended up as an eerie silent place where every piece of communication echoed around the ground with no fans in attendance under New Zealand’s red light Covid restrictions.

The experience was ‘bizarre’ that felt like a training run to Burke without the energy and atmosphere brought by the fans, particularly the students in the Zoo who would be piled in at one end behind the goal posts.

“It was actually, it was real bizarre. It almost felt like an internal game, like a game against ourselves at training where no one’s there,” Burke said.

“But I guess the positives of it is you could hear everyone, so you could hear the communication. That’s sometimes quite hard under the roof.

“So probably made it a bit easier in that sense but yeah definitely miss the atmosphere, miss the Zoo. It’s always a cool experience.”

Without the supporters in attendance, the edge the Highlanders receive might not be there which might ‘play into the hands’ of the Crusaders a little bit Burke says.

“The Highlanders are always obviously tough to play at Forsyth. Having the roof kind of suits their style of play and as you say, the Zoo is always loud and they’ve always got a
good crowd and it echoes in there so it’s always quite loud,” he said.

“So I think it might play into our hands a little bit but obviously they’re still a quality team so it’s going to be a tough one.”

Crusaders assistant coach Andrew Goodman was also impressed by the performance of his young 10 and added that Burke will take it up another notch this week against the Highlanders.

“I thought he did a great job, did all his core roles, kicked his goals, kicked well out of the hand, directed the boys really well,” Goodman said.

“Again, through that first 20 he had some nice early touches on the ball, a couple of little breaks; it would have been great for his confidence and you can expect to see another step up this week from Ferg.”

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