Legendary Springbok wing Bryan Habana heaped high praise on his long time teammate Bakkies Botha on Wednesday, saying that the lock’s return to the squad after a two-year break had had a profound impact on all the players in the group.
Botha played his last game for South Africa at the 2011 World Cup, where injury prevented him from making the flourishing exit to the international stage that maybe he had hoped.
Perhaps it strengthened his resolve to play for his country again, for he told a press conference in Edinburgh that every day during his stay in Toulon he dreamed of wearing the green and gold once more.
“I was more happy than surprised when I got the call from (coach) Heyneke Meyer to tell me I had been selected for this tour,” said Botha.
“I can tell you that every day when I was in Toulon, whether it was going to the gym or going to training, I had in the back of my mind the Springboks and my desire to wear the green and gold again. I never gave up on that dream, and now it has been realised for me. And now it feels like I am starting all over again, that I have a new career.
“The day I arrived in Cardiff I felt like a young player. I don’t know the word that explains how I feel. Perhaps it is respect? Or maybe I am awed? But there are new players in the squad, and it is all new, and people called me Oom (uncle) when I arrived.”
But according to Habana, it is not just the youngsters who have been rejuvenated by the return of Botha to the Springbok group.
“It has been quite astounding to witness first hand the impact that Bakkies has had on the squad. His presence and standing is immense,” said Habana.
“That first week in Cardiff it was pretty special to see young guys like Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth looking up at Bakkies with such massive respect, seeing him as a legend of the game, and guys like Siya Kolisi and Marcell Coetzee calling him Oom (a mark of respect among Afrikaans speaking males). Even at Toulon his presence is highly valued, and he brings with him to the Boks what every team he has ever been part of has valued.
“I am not just referring to his physical presence, but also his integrity (within the team environment). He brings with him a wealth of experience, not just in terms of having played a lot of international rugby, but also now having played for two years overseas. He has improved himself on the field, but he has also grown as a person, and to see him giving life lessons to the players around him has been wonderful.”
Habana said that when he moved to Toulon from the Stormers earlier this year he became immediately aware that there is a lot of hunger for rugby in Botha’s giant frame.
“When I arrived in Toulon I saw the yearning in his eyes and the desire to play top rugby again so I am pleased for him that it has happened,” said Habana.
Botha, who is now 34, is expected to be named in the starting team for Sunday’s test against Scotland at Murrayfield.
One of his foremost tasks will be to guide young Du Toit through what is expected to be his first start in a test match. But even Etzebeth, who has become established in Botha’s old No 4 jersey, is learning off the experienced veteran.
And for his part, Botha says he is loving his mentorship role.
“There have been some excellent youngsters added to the group since I have been away, and both Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph are special players. It is a privilege to be asked to pass my experience on to those guys.”
Botha says he is taking his new career with the Boks on a game by game, week by week basis, and claimed he wasn’t immediately even looking beyond the scheduled training session at a field outside of Edinburgh.
“When you get to my age you realise you don’t have four or five years left in the game, so it would be really stupid to set long term goals,” he said.
“For me it is just about getting back into that jersey and playing international rugby again, and enjoying it. I won’t take it beyond a week by week approach.”
Ou maaaikie and snapster have of course not unsderstood all this. Rather have Willmese etc in. I think these subtleties f ly over their heads. Hahahahahahahaha