BJ Botha: Overseas stars face complex challenges in forging Irish careers

BJ Botha was an established South African Test prop when he chose to ply his trade in Ireland but the Springbok World Cup winner believes there is more to switching countries than a mere residency rule.

The Munster front rower will on Saturday return to Ravenhill to face Ulster, the province he left his native land for in 2008 and spent three happy years with before moving south in 2011.

Had he not already been capped by his country, those three years would have been enough to qualify Botha to play for Ireland under current World Rugby regulations.

They are the regulations that have allowed New Zealander-turned Ulster man Jared Payne to wear the green jersey and which Munster back rower CJ Stander hopes will give him a similar path into Joe Schmidt’s squad when his three years of residency are completed this November.

With Northern Hemisphere Test sides continuing to absorb players from the three Southern Hemisphere superpowers into their national set-ups under the regulation, World Rugby, the sport’s governing body, are set to “review” the integrity of its rules. Yet Botha’s almost seven years in Ireland have taught the former Springbok that there is more to assimilation for incoming international wannabes than merely seeing out their time here.

“It is a difficult question to answer. First of all you meet the years part of it, but then also you have to get into the system in the sense of being in the squad,” Botha said.

“I do think it should be set so that players coming in from overseas should know what they need to do to play for that country. Every player at the highest level wants to play on the international stage.

“He has to make the decision at some stage whether it’s South Africa, New Zealand or Australia - do they travel and become nationals in other countries. It is important to get that set and let the rest look after itself.

“It is one thing getting qualified, but there is another part. It is not only performance. Sometimes people don’t see that. It is possibly relationships with coaches or it’s how the coaches see you. All these things play a part.”

Botha, 35, said he could relate to the situation players such as his team-mate Stander were in, moving continents in their desire to play Test rugby, and others who pay the price by staying on in their homelands.

“I think we (in the Southern Hemisphere) have a bigger pool of players. There is possibly the overflow who look to give themselves the opportunity. I think it is a big step out of that pool you are in. It is a big step out to back yourself, come overseas and do the time and hopefully be ambitious in that you want to play international rugby.

“There is no easy time being over here and playing in the conditions you aren’t used to back home, being in your family environment, the support base that supports you in the ups and downs of an international career.”

Ironically, Botha’s status as an overseas player means his own career goal right now is to prove his worth to the IRFU beyond his current contract, which expires in December.

The South African signed a six-month extension in March after Munster successfully made a case for their Non-Irish Qualified prop to remain with the province. Yet Botha wishes to stay longer.

“I am happy enough six months or even yearly. At this stage we have agreed on the six months. For me at this stage I’m happy to get through and put in performances game by game.”

Meanwhile former Ireland flanker David Wallace will become the 15th player to be inducted into the BNY Mellon IRUPA Hall of Fame. David will join other greats such as Denis Hickie, John Hayes, Mal O’Kelly, Anthony Foley, David Humphreys and Keith Wood.

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