Exiles raid Bulls resources

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 13:20
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NEWS: The Bulls, in the midst of a retrenchment process, have lost a Springbok to Premiership strugglers London Irish.

Scrumhalf Piet van Zyl, who announced his retirement from the game late last year, has had a change of mind and will join the Exiles.

Representing the Springboks on three occasions, Van Zyl, 28, joins former Bulls teammate Arno Botha at London Irish.

A bullet pass from the breakdown coupled with an excellent kicking game and a cutting edge in attack, Van Zyl is a solid acquisition for Irish as fellow No.9 Brendan McKibbin continues his recovery from injury.

Bringing Super Rugby experience to the table, having made 76 appearances in the competition for both the Cheetahs and the Bulls, Van Zyl is ready for the fight as the Exiles strive to steer themselves away from the relegation zone.

"I've heard a lot of good things about London Irish and I'm excited at the prospect of playing for the club in the Premiership," said Van Zyl, who made his debut for the Springboks during a 30-17 victory over Scotland in 2013.

"I wanted a fresh challenge and the opportunity to make the move to the Northern Hemisphere was too good to turn down," said the scrumhalf, who last year said he was so fed up with South African rugby he was going to farm in the Free State.

"I'll be doing everything I can to help the club move up the Premiership table and I can't wait to pull on the famous green jersey."

Nick Kennedy, Exiles' Director of Rugby, is delighted with the signing of Van Zyl.

"I'm very pleased to welcome Piet to London Irish and he brings a lot of experience to our back division," Kennedy said.

"With Brendan McKibbin's injury, Piet's arrival bolsters our scrum-half options and I'm really looking forward to seeing what he can bring to the team in the coming weeks."

* Meanwhile the Exiles also landed South African back row forward Arno Botha.

However, he will arrive with a question mark over his ability to have an extended period on the playing field.

Irish province Ulster has dropped a bomb on the injury-prone Springbok, Botha, last year - pulling out of an agreement to sign him got the 2017/18 season.

The announcement was the result of a "detailed medical assessment" on the player.

Botha, who has a long history of knee injuries, was meant to move to Ireland at the end of the Super Rugby campaign.

However, the 25-year-old suffered yet another knee injury in April.

"It's unfortunate for both Arno and Ulster that we've had to come to this decision as we were looking forward to welcoming him to Kingspan Stadium," Ulster Operations Director Bryn Cunningham said at the time.

Capped twice by the Springboks, the 26-year-old can operate as either a flank or No.8, he teamed up with fellow countrymen Franco van der Merwe, Petrus Du Plessis, Sebastian De Chaves and Richard Palframan at the Exiles' Hazelwood training complex on Thursday.

The explosive ball carrier made 82 appearances for the Blue Bulls, skippering the side to the Currie Cup Final in 2016 to underline his credentials as an effective leader.

Botha rose to prominence for South Africa Under-20 during the 2011 IRB Junior World Championship, scoring six tries on his way to being named South Africa Under-20 Player of the Year.

His rise in stock earnt him a call-up to the Springbok senior set-up two years later, when he made his debut against Italy in Durban.

"I'm delighted to have the opportunity to join London Irish, a club that is steeped in history and tradition," said Botha.

"I've always wanted to test myself in northern hemisphere rugby and I'm really looking forward to the challenge of helping the club secure its Aviva Premiership status."

Exiles' Director of Rugby Nick Kennedy said: "Arno is an aggressive ball carrier, who has the ability to consistently get over the gain line.

"From a young age Arno was tipped as a future Springbok captain, but injuries hampered his progress. However, he's now back to full fitness and his injuries are very much behind him as he looks to make an immediate impact with us."

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