Botha urges Munster not to be sidetracked against Leinster
Ex-Springboks prop flags need to focus on points and put intense rivalry aside
Munster frontrow forward BJ Botha acknowledges the importance of Saturday’s game against rivals Leinster as the southern province has not enjoyed a good start to the season. Photograph: Inpho
BJ Botha compares it favourably to clashes between his old team the Sharks and their old foes the Bulls but akin to the advice Brad Thorn gave his Leinster team-mates before the 2012 Heineken Cup final against Ulster, Botha reckons the key is not to be sidetracked by the occasion.
“Sometimes you can get carried away with it, you know?” said Botha. “It is a massive game, for the individual and for both teams. It’s an interprovincial and there’s a lot on the line. I think you just have both feet on the ground as an individual, know what you have to do and give a performance which we hope to do, while hoping we get the result.”
One factor underlines the scale of the fixture as far as Botha is concerned. “Why do we not play at the RDS?” he asks, rhetorically. “You can see from the supporters’ perspective, everything else that goes with it. I chat to the guys because I’m not au fait with the rivalry and why it’s so much with Leinster and not with Ulster, you know. I speak to the guys who have been there and done it.”
“It goes back to the pride and the interprovincial thing [championship] that we’ve lost. In years gone by it used to be a [interprovincial] table and that’s gone now. But we keep track and want to be the strongest squad in Ireland and we’re aware of what’s needed to do that. We know the rivalry and everything that goes with it. It’s right up there.”
This annual, early autumnal instalment in the old rivalry does not find Munster in a good place, as the ex-Springboks’ tight
head freely acknowledges. “We haven’t started the season as we wanted to. There’s a lot of changes with the playing staff and the coaching structure. We’re building, but we’re in a good place and we’re positive. A lot of the decisions that might have possibly gone against us to date might have played a role and the games are tighter now, teams are playing for a lot and it’s tight.
“We’re aware of Leinster’s threat, we know where they’ve been, what they bring performance-wise but . . . are we going to be there mentally? That’s the question we need to ask ourselves. I know we’ll be there, but as a team we need to prepare accordingly and mentally be right on the day and not be sidetracked by the side shows of a rivals game like this.”
Conceivably, Munster might feel liberated by being away from what was once their Thomond citadel. Albeit they have lost to Leinster on their last seven visits to Dublin, including four on the spin at the Aviva.
“We don’t have a good record there, but if you look at the times we’ve gone there it’s been one or two things,” said Botha, noting how the 30-21 defeat in October 2012 was the only one by more than a score. “That was the one game I remember when it was a way off. Otherwise, we were right there to take a result at the Aviva and that drives us more to get a result.
“We know what that means, make no mistake we need to be on our game . . . They might present something different and we need to be on our game. It’s not going to be any easier, we’re going to the Aviva, away from Thomond Park, and we know what performance is needed.”
Now in his fourth season with Munster, the 34-year-old says the Leinster scrum doesn’t “ever go away”.
“They might have one or two bad scrums, but they always come back with a good one. We’re aware of that threat, we have to expect it. It’s a big challenge for us.
“We find that refs are playing an even bigger part this year, probably to the frustration of the crowd and players alike. We need to know where we stand with them and we’ll make sure of that, specifically on the field because that’s where it counts.”
Welsh referee Ian Davies will be in charge of Saturday’s game and scarcely concealing his “frustration” with some scrum interpretations to date, Botha noted how disciplined Leinster are in this set-piece.
“There’s been a few decisions from ourselves and decisions going against us that have not allowed us create momentum and have stopped us getting a foothold in the game. I think we need to build an image.
“There will be pressure, pressure, pressure and then take points when we get in the zone. We can’t leave without points. We’re aware of that, not making silly errors because Leinster punish free ball and turnovers.
“There cannot be mistakes.”