Super Rugby

SA players more chilled about north-south debate than one thinks, says Arno Botha

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Arno Botha is looking forward to the competition for place at the Bulls
Arno Botha is looking forward to the competition for place at the Bulls
Lee Warren
  • Bulls star Arno Botha wonders whether South African players are really that preoccupied with the debate over whether the local game should go north or stay south.
  • Having experienced both regions, the 28-year-old believes it more a case of decision-makers deciding what's best commercially and competitively for the sport.
  • Botha is also excited to see what value a domestic-only franchise tournament in 2021 can produce.

While he understands that South African rugby's decision-makers need to explore competition structures that benefit the local game playing and commercial wise, Arno Botha wonders if the debate between staying south or going north really is that intense among players.

Despite last having a proper slice of Super Rugby action back in 2016, the 28-year-old Bulls flanker now has extensive experience of plying his trade in both hemispheres, having recently returned from Irish and PRO14 giants Munster.

As a result, he sees value in both competitions.

"Look, I enjoyed the PRO14 a lot because it coincided with my desire to gain a deeper understanding of the game at the time," Botha told Sport24.

"I like rugby. So it doesn't really matter to me in which competition you put me in, I'm going to enjoy it. To me it's quite simple. In Europe, you need to have different approaches because of the weather. In South Africa, the perception is that rugby is 'easier' because the conditions are milder.

"You can catch a ball and run with a fair amount of freedom. Over there, you really have to concentrate on the basics like catching the ball because it's so soggy and windy."

But would he have a preference?

"If it's about different franchises and the interests of commercial parties, bigger picture stuff, then we as players leave it up to our coaches and administrators," said Botha.

"But as players, I don't think we're too preoccupied with which tournament is superior. There are obvious differences, but it's not stark contrasts like night and day. In the end, I'll still have to carry well, clean and maybe give a step or two somewhere. A scrumhalf will still pass. A flyhalf will still kick.

"I know it's a simplified view, but that's the way I see it. There are more extremes in Europe. You start a game in sunshine and within 15 minutes you have some hail or ice rain smashing into your face. That's what you plan for. You plan for playing against the wind throughout the game. It's those details that make the difference.

"Yet, let's be honest, does the work of the forwards really differ so fundamentally? The core principles stay in place."

In all fairness, such discussions are anyway moot for now as cross-border competition is still hamstrung by Covid-19 and its restrictions on international travel.

With local rugby expected to only be able to host a domestic franchise competition for the first half of 2021, Botha is excited to see how South Africa can showcase its strengths solely against each other.

"We're definitely going to see it. I think the local supporters base is also going to love it. You're going to see all the internationals competing against each other weekly," he said.

"It will open our eyes and remind us that this is similar to Super Rugby Aotearoa in New Zealand, that the quality is high. It will be a revival of the local game. People like derbies."