Wednesday 13 December 2017

The Big Interview: BJ Botha 'As long as I can play at the highest level, I want to play here'

Prop desperate to be part of Penney's new era as he looks to extend contract beyond 2015

BJ Botha gives instruction to Dave Kilcoyne during a Munster training session
BJ Botha gives instruction to Dave Kilcoyne during a Munster training session

Declan Rooney

Munster tighthead prop BJ Botha says that the new scrum laws have levelled the playing field and have given weaker scrums a fighting chance against previously superior opponents.

With the 'hit' now removed from the scrums, Botha reckons that it is more difficult for front-rows to gain the upper hand on their opponents, and with inconsistencies in how the set-piece is refereed, he expects the IRB to make a few tweaks to the rules.

"I have mixed feeling myself about the new scrum rules. I think that the improvement has not moved on as much as the IRB would have liked. Just look at the recent internationals – the scrum has been a bit of a mess and I expect that they will come back with a couple of small changes to try and fix that," he said.

"But most importantly, the new rules have levelled the playing field for all packs. Previously, stronger scrums might have been dominant from the start, but it is taking a bit longer for the strong scrum to gain the upper hand. Poor scrummaging teams are now getting away with the 50-50 calls.

"From the start I really wasn't in favour of the changes. I had spent my whole career scrummaging one way and was regarded as a specialist in that department. It just makes you think 'what's coming next?'.

"The intention of the IRB to eliminate the collapsed scrum needs to be applauded and it really is finding its feet at the moment. I understand that the rules have been changed to reduce the injury risk and it is a positive thing to try and eliminate those problems.

"However, it seems a lot of the referees are not on the same page when it comes to refereeing the scrum. We saw how the southern hemisphere referees have different views on the way it needs to be policed in the international games. They have all been instructed to come down hard on infringements, but some have done it more than others."

On the back of what he describes as "an excellent" pre-season, Botha was frustrated to spend the next month on the treatment table, after a tear to his medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his knee in the friendly against London Irish, just 30 minutes into his season.

But on reflection, the Springbok was just delighted it was not the dreaded cruciate ligament that has been damaged. "I had injured my MCL before and I suspected straight away that's what had happened again. But you are never 100pc sure. The fear is always there that it could be a big injury to a big ligament," he said.


"That worry creeps into your head and it's not until you see the scans that you get a bit of clarity to it all. But it really does stick with you until then. I was quite sure it was my medial ligament: I had previously had the same injury before I left Ulster, at the World Cup in 2007 and in 2001. I was quite used to the feeling and the rehab process, but it was good to get that confirmed.

"I ended up back about a week ahead of schedule, which was very pleasing personally. They say that as you get older it takes longer to recover from injury, so it is a real credit to the medial staff at Munster that I was back sooner than expected."

The second half of last season was dotted with rumours of a possible move to France for the tighthead. Toulon were believed to be his main suitors, but according to Botha, there is only one place for him now.

"It was a delight to sign the contract extension with Munster at the end of last season, but hopefully I can go on a bit longer than that even. If both parties are happy with that then I really hope to stay here beyond 2015," he said.

"I really want to be part of what Rob (Penney) is building here. I can see there is a new era and legacy being built here at Munster and I don't want to miss out on that. As long as I am able to play at the highest level I want it to be in a Munster shirt. I'm very happy to continue my career here.

"We had a wedding back in South Africa during our break, and it was great to get home and see all of the family.

It's always great to get back to South Africa to see everyone, but times are changing slightly for us. Each time we leave it gets a little easier for us to say goodbye. Ireland is our home now, we've spent the last five years here and the children are very settled here. This is our home."

But it's easy to see why Botha is happy in his skin. Munster are top of the table, they face a couple of critical Heineken Cup matches against Perpignan and he is back to full fitness.

"Looking at the table it is hard not to be happy with what we have achieved so far this season, but we all realise that we still have the potential to improve our game," he said.

"You can't beat winning games, though, and the last two wins over Glasgow and Ospreys were big hurdles for us to clear. We have to be happy with the standings, but we are definitely still a little bit off where we want to be. This next period of games in the winter will tell us a lot.

"The game with Cardiff is pretty important, especially given that we are coming off a three-week period without any games, while Cardiff have been busy in the LV=Cup. There is the potential for a little rustiness, but we have conditioned ourselves accordingly.

"But in the slightly longer term, we know we have a difficult few weeks ahead. We have to be aware that there are some big games ahead of us in the Pro12 and the Heineken Cup, but we should be boosted by some injured players coming back and the internationals returning too.

"But the aim of the next two games is to pick up two wins and for plenty of other guys to put their hands up to make life difficult for the selectors ahead of the bigger games."

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