In the first of his exclusive columns for iafrica.com, Springbok prop BJ Botha talks about his time in Ulster, the imminent arrival of the newest member of the Botha clan, the standard of rugby up north, and finally gives his verdict on John Smit’s move to tighthead.
It’s been almost three months since we arrived here in Ulster and we are finally beginning to settle in! I have to admit it was tough at the beginning, with everything feeling a bit rushed. We spent the first week living in a hotel, and were then rushed into a house that I managed to organise during a weekend stay earlier in the year. The first week after arriving and I was already playing and I have played almost every game since then! So we haven’t had much time to adapt to our new environment…
But while it has been tough, people have been very good to us here and with my wife due in the next week we are definitely keeping our minds on the new addition that will be soon be joining the family.
Of course, the weather has been quite bad over the last few weeks – it’s been below five degrees with a bit of snow as well. The cold is fine, but the rain makes it a little tough — and I am definitely missing the sunshine. But when the little one is old enough we can start looking at doing a bit more travelling, preferably somewhere warm and where the sun is shining…
Weather the big factor
As far as the rugby is concerned the weather plays a big part. The set-pieces are obviously more important because the wet weather tends to slow things down a lot. It’s probably not as fast as the rugby back home, but it can be a little more physical and there is step up when we play in the Heineken Cup where the pace is upped a lot. The level of Heineken Cup rugby is actually very similar to the Super 14 with the set pieces and breakdown a huge battle!
For me, again, the weather has proved to be the hardest thing to adapt to. Scrumming in wet weather, trying to find my feet and getting used to the different teams I am playing against. But that said I am very excited to get a chance to be playing in places I have never seen or experienced before!
Personally, things have been going pretty well. I have started all the games I have played and the coach says he is happy with me, which is always a good thing. I have faced up against some quality props with the likes of Roncero from Argentina and come up against internationals weekly, which is great!
There is a lot of history in Northern Ireland with regard to the war — and the guys here are really proud of that heritage and they have a good team spirit. The big difference is probably the depth in rugby over here. The teams in SA have so much depth and could field two teams and still be competitive in S14! However, we have a young and exciting team with a great coaching staff and facilities to be right up there in the Heineken Cup with time to come! We also have a great support base and the crowd is something you can only appreciate if you have experienced it, they are really passionate and follow us all around Europe to support.
Boks must play to their strengths
Playing in Ireland, meanwhile, has given me an idea of what the Springboks can expect in the Tests this November and if the Boks play to there strengths I can see them having a great tour. Ulster played the Ospreys recently, who have about 12 Welsh internationals in their side — James Hook, the Jones brothers, Ryan Jones the Wales captain, Shane Williams — and they are a good side. But on the international stage I don’t think they will be able to keep up with us.
We just need to make sure we get our set-pieces right and get the ball on the front foot. If we get our backs on the front foot we won’t have many problems.
I know there has been a lot of talk back home about moving John Smit to tighthead and I have been speaking to John quite regularly. We had a long chat the other day. He played in the French league at prop which is a tough league up front so he will be fine. He knows Bismarck well, he has played with ‘Beast’ and we have very solid pack behind them. So I am sure it will go well on that front!
I obviously can’t move too far away with the little one coming soon, but with my mother and mother-in-law coming over soon, I still hope to get over and catch the England game, and hopefully catch up with the guys. But until then, I will be keeping you all up to date with the happenings up north.Tweet