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CAPE TOWN – Arno Botha was regarded as one of the top loose forwards in South Africa as he came through at the Bulls in the last decade.
He made his Springbok debut against Italy in Durban in 2013 as a 22-year-old – having captained the SA Under-20 side previously.
But he sustained a serious knee ligament injury in his second Test against Scotland at Mbombela Stadium – where he was replaced by Siya Kolisi, who produced a Man of the Match performance – and things haven't quite been the same for the Limpopo product.
A number of other injuries played a big part in that, and following stints abroad at London Irish and Munster, Botha returned to the Bulls last year July – perhaps in an attempt to address some unfinished business in South African rugby.
The tough competition at the Bulls, coupled with a few more niggles, has seen Botha spend quite a bit of time out of the mix but during the current Currie Cup he is firing on all cylinders.
Despite operating as an openside flank instead of his usual No 8 position, Botha has been a consistent performer in the Bulls' rise to the top of the log, with his strong ball-carries, little offloads in the tackle and powerful tackles.
He has also captained the side in the absence of Marcell Coetzee, who had Covid-19 and is now battling with a concussion.
“There were a few obstacles, and the more you play rugby, the better you get. I now have a few games behind my back, which is exciting for me. There were lots of things that I tried, and now as a team, we are doing well. And as an individual, I am also feeling good. I feel I am in a good space,” said Botha, who will turn 30 in October.
“I felt that last week went quickly for me, but where I am now, I am in a good place and want to keep going for the next competition as well.
“It's not too much of a change (in the loose trio) – it's only from phaseplay. The main thing is to carry and to tackle, and that's what each guy must do. So, it doesn't matter where I am – I am comfortable from six to eight.
“Maybe I would have a question mark at four. But I will go there if I have to … We have a simple game plan, and to cover those three positions and do the main things is easy enough for me.”
With the 🏆semis looming, & the age-old North v South Derby on the cards, Vodacom Bulls captain Arno Botha looks ahead to this crucial encounter. He emphasises the importance of focusing on the job at hand. 💪
Read more: https://t.co/Qnfc9ZJSLM #TrueToTheBlue pic.twitter.com/fQKy53Or7Z
— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) September 1, 2021
The Bulls were nearly knocked over by the Cheetahs last week, but managed to hold on for a 39-36 victory. Now it's Western Province up next in Friday's semi-final at Loftus Versfeld (7pm kick-off), and Botha is wary of the Capetonians' attacking play.
“I won't say we lost momentum (against the Cheetahs). I just think within a game, there are a lot of things that happen if you look at the technical side of it,” Botha said.
“There were a few slip-ups that we had – guys have put up their hands and said ‘It was me who was (responsible) in that situation'. So, it's actually a very easy fix, and individuals that are standing up – I myself put my hand up for that.
“WP played very well, and went out of their way to chase that bonus point – and they did it very well.
“It was good for us to see what they can do with ball-in-hand. But it's important that we see what we can do, and how we played previously.
“We have a good focus on where we are as a team, and what we can do going forward.”