Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Botha is set to become an Ulster hero

BJ Botha

His feet had barely touched the ground in Belfast before Brendon James Botha found himself in the full throes of an Ulster scrummaging session.

In many ways it was the perfect introduction for the 28-year-old tighthead prop, better known as BJ, as the coalface of the front row is where he best expresses himself.

Having arrived in Belfast on Sunday having tied up all his loose ends in Natal, Ulster coach Matt Williams had ordered a scrummaging session, involving both live scrums and against the machine, for 9am on Monday morning.

And within minutes the South Africa World Cup winning prop, Ulster’s most expensive signing yet, had already made quite an impact.

“Rory Best had a huge smile on his face on Monday,” said veteran flanker Kieron Dawson. “It was one of the best scrummaging sessions we have had in years.”

Botha’s influence was soon to be found at a line-out session as well, when he told a couple of players to get up to speed following confusion at some of the calls.

On the touchline, Williams just sat back and smiled, realising he had not just signed a world class scrummager, who at 28 is entering his prime years as a front row forward, but also a leader with exacting standards.

And having spent the last two weeks training with the Sharks squad in Durban, Botha, whose season with Natal was disrupted with neck and stomach injuries, is also ready to make an immediate impact on the pitch for Ulster’s opening game of their Magners League campaign, against Llanelli Scarlets at Ravenhill on Friday night.

Comparisons with Robbie Kempson, the former Springbok prop who became a cult figure at Ravenhill during Alan Solomons’ tenure, are already being drawn.

“I haven’t played rugby in a while,” said Botha. “I have been injured and playing one-off Tests and games in the Currie Cup so I am just keen to get on the field and play some rugby. As soon as you get on the field, everything just falls into place.

“Maybe missing some games was a blessing in disguise, as it has given me around five weeks off to rest the body a bit and I am feeling fresh and ready again for the new season.”

Botha’s injury problems began just over a year ago when he cruelly missed out in playing in the World Cup final against England having hurt knee ligaments in the Springboks final pool game against the USA. It was a tough, tough blow.

“The disappointment at missing out on the World Cup final speaks for itself,” said Botha, who despite opting to leave South Africa still has high hopes of playing for his country again.

”Getting that knee injury in the last pool game against the USA was a huge disappointment but I turned it into a positive. I learned from it, moved forward and gave myself new challenges. One of those was getting over the Ulster.”

While he was controversially omitted by new Springbok coach Peter De Villiers for the Tri-Nations this summer, Botha has also had to overcome neck and stomach injuries. But he insists he is fighting fit now.

“As a front rower, you never feel okay,” he joked. “But all the bits and pieces are together. Any injury has a process and you just have to do your rehab but each game and each week is new.”

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