B.J. Botha’s inclusion in the Springbok side to play Ireland tomorrow is likely to mean his departure from Ulster at the end of the season.
The South African tight head prop won a surprise recall to the Springbok side for the Croke Park Test and admitted last night: “South Africa is my priority and there is nothing like wearing your country’s shirt. This will be a massive game to be involved in and I want to play and take the opportunity I have.
“I have a contract with Ulster until the end of the season and then I will make my decision....about the future. We will then see what happens. But at the end of the day you do want to play for South Africa so you will do whatever you can to put yourself in that position so you can be selected.
“With the World Cup coming up, that’s the goal you definitely want to aim for. But before that, you have to be involved as they build a team through to the World Cup.”
Botha does not dispute the fact that it means he would have to return home at the end of this northern hemisphere season next May.
“You can’t just arrive and expect to be selected in the ‘Boks squad a couple of weeks before the World Cup,” he said in Dublin. “Anyone who wants to go to the World Cup is definitely going to have to be involved there as they build their squad towards it.”
Botha has been catapulted into the South African team because of an injury crisis. Jannie du Plessis is injured and not available for the tight head job so the selectors have moved captain John Smit back to his favoured hooker position, after trying him at tight head.
The word emerging from the Springbok camp last night was that the world champions will play Smit much more at hooker in future than they have done this year. That offers Botha the possibility of making the tight head role his own and with the World Cup looming, it’s a big incentive. But he’ll have to go home to do it.
Botha admits the Ulster experience has been vital.
“It has been a different opportunity for me. Scrummaging has become a big part of the game in the northern hemisphere with a lot of tight play and it has improved my game in that respect,” he said.
“It has given me more knowledge, definitely, because you have to take more responsibility as a forward over here. Your set piece has to be very solid and that’s definitely meant more responsibility for me. The engagement is much more important here because of the wet, softer grounds and you must get good quality go-forward ball from the scrums.”
If, as seems highly likely, this proves to be Botha’s last season with Ulster what does he want to achieve?
“I would like to see us get into the semi-final play-offs. Ulster has come a long way since last year and they are really going to move forward as a team in the next 12 to 24 months.
“But we want to get some silverware in the cupboard, that’s the big aim.”