Sunday 15 September 2019

World Cup winner still striving to lead from the front

Hunger for more silverware sees tighthead as competitive as ever and keen for game-time

BJ Botha competitive instinct remains as strong as ever
BJ Botha competitive instinct remains as strong as ever

Daragh Small

In his fifth season as Munster's main man on the tighthead side of the scrum, BJ Botha cannot comprehend his career coming to a halt.

The Springbok World Cup winner has made 106 appearances for the province and scored three tries since he joined from rivals Ulster in 2011.

His longevity in the No 3 shirt has brought him into the 2015-16 season and he prepares for another Champions Cup campaign knowing he is still a vital cog at 35.

He shows no signs of slowing down, the wear and tear of a career spanning 270 appearances for club and country hasn't caught up with him and he is hungry for more.

"Your motivation changes over the years you play. As a youngster you are looking up the guys above you and you want to be in their shoes. As you transition and move into the final years of your career, you want to make the most of it, and not be like a loose rag hanging around the place.

"You still want to add something to the side. I push myself really hard to do that. I want to be up the front with the fitness side of it and the performance side of it. I want to be pushing, be adding different things to my game.

"It is just the nature of the person I am, I really want to push for silverware like every player does. Everyone needs to perform so the team can play better," said the Durban native.

"It's obviously nice when you get a couple of back-to-back games, and you are in the thick of things with the guys and get the results. It gives you more confidence going forward."

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His appetite for the game is remarkable, Botha has had one of the most successful careers possible, but still craves the Champions Cup dream that he has never fulfilled.

He turns 36 in January and who knows what the future has in store, but for now Botha is fully focused on keeping himself primed.

"We have a great S & C staff that help us prepare well and help you condition yourself well. I am not a type of player to just hang around and rest.

"You have to box clever though. Everyone has their own preparation to get them ready. Obviously mine is a bit tweaked compared to other guys, whether the load will be more or less it differs. Maybe a swim rather than a cycle or whatever you want to get from it.

"But it's all about preparing for the match, and then trying to put in the performance. I wouldn't say it has become more difficult as time has gone by, but I would say the management part has become more intricate and I have had to be cuter about things."


This weekend they face Treviso in the Champions Cup and, after being rested for their Pro12 win away to Edinburgh last time out, Botha is refreshed and rearing to go.

Uruguayan prop Mario Sagario made his debut off the bench for John Ryan in the second-half and steadied the ship at BT Murrayfield. The Munster scrum was on the retreat before that and Botha knows it is important to keep adding competition in every position.

"Competition is always great. It is always evolving in Munster. You get to see that in our training sessions but it is all geared to the weekend. When we go out hammer and tongs in training it is all for prepping the starting 15, and having the lads ready to come on off the bench.

"Mario has been a great addition, he is not only a character off the field. He has brought some experience from his international games. He has over 50 caps for Uruguay and that is something in itself, especially up front.

"He's coming from South America where they pride themselves up front, with teams like Argentina and Uruguay.

"So he has really added to us. It was his first cap on the weekend so he is only going to get better as a player. Playing alongside the players we have here will only improve him."

And Munster face into a daunting prospect in the next couple of weeks, as they look to right the wrongs of last season's exit in the pool stage of the Champions Cup.

Treviso at home may not be the most difficult proposition, but they have run teams close in the Pro12 this term - with four losing bonus points, so they are not far off creating a big shock.

But Munster will hope to overcome this hurdle and potentially with a bonus point of their own, which would give them a lift for a tough clash with French giants Stade Francais in Paris.

"When I first arrived the first thing you get told is: 'We pride ourselves in Europe and that is where get judged.' The supporters judge you on it as well. We up the intensity and everything else, and the media hype it up a couple of notches.

"We are aware of that and players haven't really pushed on since we had back-to-back semi-finals against Clermont and Toulon. A few things could have gone our way but those are fine margins. A bounce of the ball here or a silly penalty, and we would have been there or thereabouts.

"For us it's all about Treviso this weekend, we know them really well from the Pro12.

"We want to put in a performance and then move on to our next game against Stade Francais in Paris.

"But we just need to take it game by game, as we build momentum hopefully through the pool phase. And then you look at the next challenge, that is the way we have always looked at it."

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