Cape Town – Arno Botha says playing for Munster was “one of the best times of my life”, and now he is excited about facing the Irish team for the Bulls in Saturday’s United Rugby Championship clash at Loftus Versfeld (7.45pm kickoff).
Botha, who turned 30 in October, had a tough time with injuries in his previous stint at the Bulls, and tried to make a fresh start in Europe.
He first turned out for London Irish in early 2018, but then soon found himself at Munster, having been recruited by one of his former Bulls coaches, Johann van Graan, who had taken over the coaching duties from Rassie Erasmus – who left Ireland for the Springboks.
He repaid the faith shown in him by Van Graan with a number of impressive displays, and spent a good few years in Limerick before heading back home to the Bulls when Jake White came calling in 2020.
“I haven’t really experienced something like that before. It will be interesting. I won’t try to see too much into that. I know some of the guys there, but at the end of the day, it stays rugby and something that we enjoy doing. So, that will be the goal in the end,” Botha said from Loftus Versfeld yesterday.
“My time at Munster was probably one of the best times of my life, not only because it’s Munster, but I played rugby and it was my first time playing overseas, and I embraced everything about it. I learnt a lot from the coaches as well, and it’s something I took to heart. It got my career back on track. We don’t play rugby for hate, but for the enjoyment of it.
“It’s also a great thing for Johann to coach a team at Loftus against the Bulls. There is a mutual respect between both teams, and we will challenge each other to see who is the best.”
But it’s about winning and not nostalgia on Saturday, and while Munster are third on the URC log with four victories, they did lose their last match against the Ospreys in Swansea.
The Bulls will aim to get their campaign back on track after they only beat Cardiff on their four-match tour of Europe in September and October.
Both teams won’t have some their internationals who played in the November Tests, although the Bulls aren’t badly affected, as only Trevor Nyakane was part of the Springbok squad – with Duane Vermeulen having recently joined Ulster.
They should have hooker Johan Grobbelaar and flyhalf Morné Steyn, who were part of the Bok squad for the Rugby Championship – in the mix against Munster, although they will miss long-term injury casualty Johan Goosen.
“We have done well mentally – the guys look awake and are full of energy during training last week and this week. There is one more game after this before we have another break before a long stretch of games. So, it’s important for us to measure ourselves against these guys,” Botha said.
“Munster are one of the best teams in Europe, and we are the best team in South Africa at the moment. So, we want to see how we go against them here.
“It’s really nice to get some fans back, and we hope to have a full stadium again, like in Europe. We feel that because we had a tough time in Europe, we must give something back. We back ourselves as a good team, and we cannot just accept how things have gone.
“We must keep calm and carry out our plans from our coaches, and we must have some fire in the bellies to maybe prove a point – and even just for ourselves – to show that we are good in Europe.”