Billy Vunipola has undergone surgery to repair the arm he broke for a second time in England’s losing test series with South Africa and now faces another long period of rehabilitation.
It is understood Vunipola had a plate inserted in the arm last week after breaking it in the same place in the second test loss to the Springboks and Renaldo Bothma, the Harlequins No8, knows exactly what the Saracens No8 is going through having broken his arm three times last season.
Bothma, 28, believes Vunipola will come back mentally stronger despite the massive frustration of having to follow exactly the same recovery plan again. Bothma is training with Quins and is aiming to join up with the Namibia squad in August to help them secure qualification for next year’s World Cup in Japan by playing against Kenya and Zimbabwe. Namibia hammered Tunisia 118-0 at the weekend and are on course to make a sixth consecutive appearance in the Cup.
Bothma said: “I know what Billy is going through and I had an operation the second time because it was a clean break which meant putting in a plate and I now have a bit of a bionic arm with a second plate in it as well. It will be tough for him because it is not a good experience breaking your arm again and hopefully a plate will ensure it doesn’t break again.
“It is always a tricky one and I wish him all the best for his recovery and he will get through it and come back stronger because he is a great player. What is tough is repeating that rehab process again and I had to do it three times, but that is rugby and it makes you a stronger person mentally.
“ The first time I broke it last season the damage was a hairline fracture which then healed, but I then broke it at the same place and had a plate inserted and the third was a new break at the end of the plate.
“They were in all different kinds of situations when I broke my arm; the first was making a normal tackle, then I was injured carrying the ball and the third was handing someone off and there wasn’t anything common thing and I believe it was just bad luck. Hopefully, it is all over and done with having had three in a row and we are starting with a clean sheet.
“Mentally, it is very tough because you have a rehab period of 12-14 weeks and then I did it again and so you go through the process once again and then a third time. It has been very challenging but getting married and setting up my own DIY business allowed me to concentrate on things away from rugby and get my head in a good place. I am very positive.”
Like Vunipola, appearing in the 2019 World Cup is the ultimate target and Bothma, who has 15 test appearances, is eager to add his considerable weight to the Namibian cause. “I was named in the Namibian squad for these matches but withdrew temporarily to get sorted and to be here working with our new head coach ( Paul Gustard). There will be an evaluation of my fitness to see if I will ready for the important Namibia tests against Kenya and Zimbabwe in August for World Cup qualifying.
“That would mean two games under my belt and then straight into the Premiership season with Quins and I just want to get back on the pitch.
“ Qualification would mean joining a World Cup pool with New Zealand again and also South Africa which would be a cracker and we want to make history with a first Cup win. Japan beating the Boks in the last World Cup showed that anyone can produce a victory and we are always the underdogs but we are dangerous. This is our strongest squad leading up to a World Cup.”
Bothma is desperate to put a run of games together for Quins as a belated “thank you” to John Kingston, the former director of rugby who brought him into the Premiership but then lost his job after a poor season. “ John Kingston brought me over from South Africa to help in his plans and I do feel bad for JK. But this is a new season with a new coach and I want play well and honour JK for putting his trust in me.
“Harlequins were spending so much money on my operations that I decided I had better start up a DIY business so I could source the materials myself for the operations!”