They might ‘simply’ be a first division team at present, but the SWD Eagles are a very ambitious Currie Cup outfit. And some of the shrewd signings they have made this season proves just how determined they are to get back into the top flight of South African rugby.
With the likes of Springboks Gaffie du Toit and Bevin Fortuin in their ranks already, their latest acquisition – UCT and Western Province loose forward Jody Burch – is another step in the right direction.
The powerful ball-carrier was this week added to the Eagles’ playing resources and just in time, too, with veteran loose forward Ryno van der Merwe having been forced to hang up his boots because of a long-standing back problem.
Burch made his Vodacom Cup debut for Western Province earlier this year and he is determined to make his mark in George as he begins to make a name for himself as a professional player.
“I’m here to play rugby,” says Burch in an interview on www.in-site.co.za. “My goal at the start of this year was to play Vodacom Cup rugby… and now to be playing in the Currie Cup is a great opportunity for me and something I did not quite expect.
“At one stage there was a chance of maybe forcing my way into the WP Currie Cup squad, but that didn’t work out. However, I now have an opportunity to play Currie Cup rugby on a weekly basis and it’s a chance I’m hoping to take with both hands.”
For now, Burch has signed until the end of the 2009 Currie Cup, which, hopefully, will include two promotion/relegation matches against the bottom-placed Premier Division teams.
“To be honest, I haven’t thought beyond October,” he admits. “The key, for now, is just to make sure I am playing for the Eagles every single week and then we can look at my options beyond this year.
“Who knows, maybe the Eagles will be back in the Premier Division (of the Currie Cup) next year and that will make my decision easier to stay here.
“I’ve been really impressed with things so far here in George,” he adds. “I know it’s been a few days only, but the coach (Johann Lerm) has already outlined the role he envisages me playing here and I’m excited to be part of an ambitious team like the Eagles.”
At 112 kilograms and 1,88m it is pretty obvious where Burch’s strengths lie, but he also brings some versatility to the party; being comfortable at blindside flank or at No.8.
He played most of his rugby at No.8 during his schooldays, but in recent years – at UCT – he has found himself filling the blindside position with distinction.
Nicknamed ‘Lauaki’ because of his resemblence to the powerful All Blacks back row ace Sione Lauaki – “some people thought Lauaki was my surname at one stage”, he chuckles – Burch is no stranger to top-level sport.
In fact, the 26-year-old has already represented his country at the highest level; at baseball.
“I went to America, on a scholarship, after school to play baseball,” he reveals. “I was a hitter and a utility in-fielder in my playing days and I absolutely loved it.
“But, despite my success on the baseball field, I always had this need, or feeling rather, that I would eventually return to playing rugby… I loved every minute of it (baseball) and I am very proud of what I achieved, but I couldn’t ignore that burning desire to give rugby a bash.
“Some people might say I’m a bit of a late bloomer (at 26), but I think I’m in the best stage of my career right now. It’s been a slow, but positive build-up and it’s beginning to pay off now.”
Burch believes he is fitter and stronger than he has ever been and he also looks back fondly on his three-year spell at UCT – a club that seems to be producing top-class players with regularity at present.
“If it wasn’t for the structures at UCT I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he says.
“Moving to UCT gave me some exposure, but the best thing about the club is how the coaches allow you to grow as a person and a player and the confidence that gives you.
“Of course,” he continues, “they’re losing a few players now (as a result of the club’s success), but none of the coaches at UCT would dream of standing in anyone’s way if other exciting opportunities ever arose.”