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Bakkies Botha……the Springboks not so secret weapon

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Let’s face it, rugby union is a hard game and not played by the faint of heart.  The professional game has had many advantages with rugby becoming a faster game played by bigger and probably more skillful players.

 

Gone are the days when rugby players going to the gym as part of rugby training were unheard of.  They got all the conditioning they needed at practice twice a week and in the pub afterwards, the players believed in those days.  Rob Louw the great South African flank even got dropped for a test match in New Zealand for jolling too much at the pubs.

 

Through the generations however, rugby has had the hard man. This oke would be one of the big forwards and most of them over the years have been locks.  England was at their most dominant when Martin Johnson ran the show from up front.  Johnson took no nonsense and in 2002 was the man who sorted out Springbok captain Corne Krige in the ‘Tangle at Twickenham”.   England went on to win the Rugby World Cup the following year.

 

Kevin De Klerk was a tough man in the heyday of strong Transvaal teams.  There is an old legend in SA rugby folklore that De Klerk would say to an opposition lock that “My ball is my ball…..your ball we can talk about” and woe betide any lightie lock that didn’t get the message.

 

Great teams over the years always seem to have had an enforcer in the mix.  New Zealand has produced Colin Meads, Andy Haden and Mark Shaw who were never afraid to take a step forward.  The 1976 All Black Ian Kirkpatrick fought pitched battles with Moaner Van Heerden, both drawing blood though gaping head wounds in the four test matches that South Africa won 3-1.  There were no blood bins and neither man would have even considered leaving the field.  They were playing rugby and it didn’t get any better than the old rivals sorting each other out.

 

 In the good old days Eastern Province were given the first match when an international team visited South Africa.  The 1980 British Lions faced up to EP at the infamous Boet Erasmus stadium in Port Elizabeth.  There had been many battles of the Boet over the years and EP was a feared and respected outfit who had been given the task to soften the Lions and giving them a traditional South African welcoming.

 

They breed them tough in that neck of the woods.  Schalk Burger was born in Port Elizabeth.  Mark Andrews and Os Du Rand, two of the all time great Springboks come from farming stock and grew up in the hinterlands of the province. Even a few of the Watson brothers were big okes that could take care of themselves.

 

There was a saying in South African rugby that if EP lost the game, they would always win the fight.  And the 1980 EP team had some hard men in its ranks.  Fronted up by Schalk Burger Snr in his prime and backed by his sidekick George Rautenbach the pack was a tough unit.  And in the backline was the suicidal crash tackler Dennis Campher.

 

The Lions went on to win the encounter but the 1980 British Lions injury count started at the Boet when Stuart Lane, the highly rated flanker limped off the field.  Schalk Burger would go on to win Springbok colours and become the enforcer of the Bok pack together with Vleis Visage in the mid 1980’s.

 

The 1995 World Cup winning Boks also had some hard men in the team.  James “Bullet” Dalton was always in opponents faces and he had back up from the likes of the man mountain Kobus Wiese and Hannes Strydom.

 

Mark Andrews became the Bok enforcer after them with guys like Os Du rand and Andre Venter adding the grunt when necessary in the late 1990’s.

 

Then Bakkies Botha came along.  The man is huge at over 2m tall and 116 kg of prime beef .  He already is a legend in SA rugby.  There is a story that Pieter De Villiers told at a dinner in Jeffreys Bay recently about the time Bakkies saw another hard man, AJ Venter lying at the bottom of a ruck.  “AJ come closer”, said Bakkies and when asked why, Bakkies retorted “So that I can moer your properly”.

 

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Fourie Du Preez when asked about funny moments on a rugby field came up with this one.  ‘The Bulls were playing the Sharks and during the second half, one of the Natal Sharks forwards said to Bakkies that he thought Botha always got substituted at half time so why is he still on the field.  Bakkies replied that he plays the full 80 minutes against the smaller unions only………..

 

John Smit tells of the tense minutes in the changing room before the kickoff.  ‘I look around the changing room and then I see Bakkies.  The sheer size of the man would intimidate anybody.  That when I know everything will be all right on the field.  With Bakkies there, the Boks are going to be ok”.  The team went on to win the 2007 rugby World Cup.

 

During 2009 Super 14 rugby, Botha made his presence felt in every game he played.  When pesky Phil Waugh stole one ball too many and needed to be put into his place, Bakkies helped him right with an elbow.  One of the most classic moments in modern rugby happened right after the incident when Bakkies was caught on camera blowing a kiss to Waugh.  Absolutely classic stuff from the big man of SA rugby.

 

And no, the incident certainly did not deserve a three week suspension.  After all, this is rugby we playing and watching, not netball or tennis or tiddlywinks.

 

Who are the future hard men of the game in South Africa?  Well Duane Vermeulen, Bismark Du Plessis, Ryan Kankowski, Beast, and Pierre Spies will all be sure to put up their hands…..ummmmmm elbows…….. in time to come.  The future of South African rugby is sound.

 

  

 

 

 

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