• ‘The opportunity felt right’

    Sharks lock Mouritz Botha on being approached by Brendan Venter last year, who he's eager to play against in Vodacom Super Rugby, and the importance of a rotation system.

    Why did you decide to return to South Africa at this stage of your career, having played 111 matches for Saracens and 10 Tests for England?
    I was looking to leave Saracens at the end of the current northern hemisphere season, so when [Sharks technical director] Brendan Venter approached me it just made sense to come to Durban now. The prospect of working with Brendan again [he was Saracens director of rugby while Botha was there] really excited me. Even if I had a big offer from another overseas club, I would have come to the Sharks. The opportunity to play in South Africa felt right to me.

    When did Venter approach you?
    Towards the end of November. He told me to take some time to think about it and speak to my wife. She knew it was a forgone conclusion that we would come here.

    How are you settling in in Durban?
    We are looking to buy a house but at the moment we're staying in a very nice apartment. It has a pool and is right by the sea, so we are enjoying it very much and enjoying the weather. The people are very friendly and I know a little bit of Zulu, so I'm always saying hello and goodbye to everyone. I'm really having a good time so far.

    Have you always wanted to play Super Rugby?
    Yes, growing up in South Africa I dreamed of playing Currie Cup and Super Rugby. I had a bit of a different journey, and it’s taken me 14 years to get the opportunity to play Super Rugby since leaving school. I’m really looking forward to it and will treasure the moment when I take to the field for the first time.

    Which locks are you looking forward to playing against?
    I’m looking forward to playing against Eben Etzebeth again. I played against him a couple of times for England and he’s a really talented player. I’m looking forward to playing with Pieter-Steph du Toit, he’s such a talented player. Brodie Retallick is also someone I admire a lot and I'm keen to measure myself against him.

    Are you impressed with the depth of the Sharks squad?
    Yes, definitely. We have two teams training against each other at the moment and a number of other players swopping in and out from the sideline. We can field a strong team on any given day as there are two or three guys in each position to step in, which won’t weaken the team at all. We have a very strong squad for Super Rugby.

    Are the Sharks going to implement a rotation system this year?
    I think so. You are not going to win competitions or trophies if you don’t play all your players and keep everyone match fit and fresh towards the end of the campaign.

    What are the differences in the approach to rugby between the northern and southern hemispheres?
    Different teams have different approaches. I think in the northern hemisphere there’s a lot of structure, whereas in South Africa there’s structure but also the freedom to use your abilities and express yourself a bit more. That’s probably the big difference between the two.

    Do you have any business interests?
    Not really. I want to go into coaching after my rugby playing career. In saying that, if the right thing comes up [in business] I’m pretty sure I will jump at it and take a chance.

    Interview by Nicholas Lambie 

    Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images

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    Simon Borchardt