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by: Schalk Jonker @SchalkJonker   ·    4 April 2014

Up close with Arno Botha

After being on the crest of a wave of success in June last year, Vodacom Bulls loose forward Arno Botha has had a hard time recently with a second serious knee injury in less than a year.

Making his Springbok debut after an impressive Vodacom SupeRugby campaign, Botha ruptured ligaments in his left knee four minutes into his second Test and had to spend the rest of the season in the sidelines.

Setting his sights on a huge 2014, lightning struck twice for the former Baby Boks captain and SA under-20 Player of the Year as he picked up the exact same injury against the Stormers in a SupeRugby warm-up game in Polokwane, which will keep him out for most of this season as well.

“I’ve picked up this injury now, but I still feel it could be a big year. It will only have to be in other aspects of my life.”

How frustrating was it to hurt your knee again just as you were getting ready to make your comeback?

Seriously frustrating! It was very difficult. Everything has been going well since my under-19 days. I reached some big goals that I set myself at a relatively young age – not that I’m finished. I wanted to become a Springbok at 22 and I was fortunate enough for that to have happened. But just as I wanted to kick on, I got that injury four minutes into my second Test. But I worked my way back, stayed positive, worked hard and had some very early mornings at Loftus. So I came through that and I was ready for a big year. I told myself that 2014 would be my year to do great things. I’ve picked up this injury now, but I still feel it could be a big year. It will only have to be in other aspects of my life.

How would you describe the culture at the Vodacom Bulls?

I think the stand-out for me is the way the guys accept each other. You take it as a given, but that is not always the case. We have a real acceptance of everyone in the team and I saw that especially with the new guys that came into the setup recently. We welcome everyone into our family. We also have a culture of Christianity at the Bulls and the guys are doing things for the right reasons

The players have been doing well so far... 

That’s the thing about the Bulls. With the structure and the passion and the talent we have at Loftus Versfeld, the Bulls will always be a competitive team. People were saying after those first two games that we won’t win a single game this season, but the guys have pulled together, stuck to the structures and just executed a little better. We all know the way the coaches want us to play is a winning formula and if it is executed properly, it will lead to success.

Who was your rugby hero growing up?

I don’t want to make him feel old, but it was Pierre Spies. I’ve been a die-hard Bulls fan all my life and when he hit the scene, I thought he was the best thing ever. I looked up to him and I had pictures of him on my walls. There was also a newspaper clipping about him that said “This isn’t just any 22-year-old” and I told myself that it is what I want people to say about me one day.

Your twitter handle is @AriGold_Botha. Are you a big Entourage fan?

You would think that, but the truth is that I haven’t watched a single episode of the series yet. In 2011, just before I played my first Currie Cup game for the Bulls, we were practising and I did something right in a drill. And I think it was Dewald Potgieter and Gary Botha who said “Lekker, Ari Gold”. I said I didn’t know who that was and they told me to look it up. At that stage I had a lot of nicknames, like ‘He-Man’ (which Bismarck du Plessis still prefers to call me) and stuff like that. So I Googled Ari Gold and one of the things I saw was a comment that said ‘Ari Gold is ruthless, relentless and always on the top of his game’ and I thought if that is how people describe him, I will take it for myself.

What kind of phone do you use?

I have the iPhone 5 and I absolutely love it. My favourite apps are the ones with the guitar tabs and I have also recently downloaded the Vodacom Rugby Stats app which I quite enjoy.

Main image: Arno Botha of the Bulls during the Vodacom SupeRugby match between Vodacom Bulls and Hurricanes at Loftus Versveld on 4 May, 2013 in Pretoria. Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images.