Former All Blacks backrower Liam Messam, has echoed his old teammate Dan Carter’s comments from last month, where the two-time World Rugby Player of the Year revealed that Springbok Schalk Burger was the toughest opponent he faced.

Writing in his column on The XV, a newly launched long-form rugby content website, Messam opened up about the brutality of professional rugby, where he admitted to “dishing out” the odd cheap shot while receiving plenty. He also discussed one of the greatest rivalries in rugby between the All Blacks and the Springboks, and what it was like coming up against Burger.

In ‘Iron Men of Rugby’, he wrote: “When I’m on the park, I always want to test myself against the biggest and the strongest guys and although there might be some monsters playing in the loosies now, no one could hit you harder than Schalk Burger.

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“When I’m on the park, I always want to test myself against the biggest and the strongest guys and although there might be some monsters playing in the loosies now, no one could hit you harder than Schalk Burger.

“I think in many ways he was sort of like the spiritual and emotional leader for the Springboks. He may not have made all the calls on the field, but he led those boys into battle.

“You could see when he put in a huge hit or made a crazy run that it would lift the whole team – and he was able to do that pretty often.”

Messam also spoke about the character of the Springbok players, including Burger, and how their persona would change as soon as the full-time siren sounded.

Messam played in the 27-25 loss to the Springboks at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park in 2014. In that match, a high tackle on Burger gave Patrick Lambie the chance to kick his side to a famous test victory, which ended the All Blacks’ winning streak that stretched back to 2012 against England.

“Honestly though, [Schalk Burger is] the nicest bloke off the field. I remember one match we were playing against the Springboks, I hit him high near the end of the game and South Africa kicked a penalty to steal the win. I was pretty dark after the final whistle, but he was the first one that came up to me and told me not to dwell on it.

“The South Africans though, I don’t know what it is but there’s something about them. They’re all great guys off the pitch but when you’re on the field, they want to hurt you.”

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But this professionalism in its brutalist form, didn’t end with Bruger’s retirement following the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Standing at 206cm, RG Snyman is part of the next wave of Springboks who are continuing to play with the same level of ferociousness.

“A few years ago, RG Snyman managed to break my nose and finger at the same time. We’d had a bit of a scuffle off the ball and a few phases later I was lining up for a carry…I could only really see him out of the corner of my eye but he saw me and just bee-lined straight towards me.

“Physically, you always want to test where you are as a player and where you are as a team by playing the South Africans. That’s their style and that’s what won them the World Cup. You know you’re going to come up against some big units and they don’t exactly hide what their game plan is going to be – they’re going to maul, they’re going to run it straight, they’re going to smash you.”

Messam has had a decorated career on the New Zealand provincial scene for Waikato, who he recently signed with after a few years away from the country.

The loose forward reflected on a time early on his career, when he came up against the Hurricanes trio of Jerry Collins, Chris Masoe, and Rodney So’oiala – three world-class backrowers.

He clearly had a lot of respect for those players and how tough they were, and felt it too, having been hit “right on the nose” by Collins.

This admiration for the enforcers of rugby continued throughout his 43-test All Blacks career, where he played alongside the likes of Jerome Kaino, and Richie McCaw.

The full article appears on The XV.Rugby. Register now for a free trial and get access to long-form and thoughtful editorial content from award-winning journalists and content creators

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