Gary Botha

Capital gains for Quins hooker

Springbok hooker Gary Botha swapped the high veldt for the Twickenham Stoop at the start of this season. He tells IRN how he is finding life in leafy west London

By Peter Bills

The South African rugby exodus threatens to reach diaspora levels.

There were, incredibly, around 300 South Africans in French rugby as 2008 began, Springbok captain John Smit included. In England, there are nowhere near as many but still some famous names are plying their trade here.

The South Africans have travelled for a variety of reasons and with a whole collection of intentions. But it’s doubtful whether any possess more commitment or determination to stay and be a success than Gary Botha at Harlequins.

Botha’s raison d’etre at Harlequins involves his family and lifestyle. At 26, he could easily have stayed in Pretoria with the Blue Bulls and shared another couple of years, both at provincial domestic and Super 14 level. But his enthusiasm for a new challenge in life brought him to London and a place at the Premiership club.

“When the offer came up, I asked myself what drove me, what motivated me,” he says. “The answer was my family. We have a daughter (21-month-old Alana) with a second baby on the way.

“Sometimes you have to take a step back as a professional sportsman and ask, what is sure to make you perform and progress. The place I am at now, I have come round to that. It gives me tremendous drive.

“That is why we opted for a long contract. For me, it wasn’t any use taking up a six-month contract or a year. We had to give it a good go, the whole experience. Otherwise we will never know what it could have been like. And I never wanted to look back and think, I should have taken that opportunity. I never wanted to be in that position.”

As Botha has discovered, the challenge is multi-dimensional. In the first week of the New Year in London, they trained in temperatures little above freezing. It’s dark at 4pm and not light again until 8 in the morning. Then there’s the rugby.

“The intensity is higher in a shorter time span,” he says. “It’s definitely a different style and the contact is more intense. You have got to be able to adapt to all that. So many outside factors also play a role. But that is the big challenge for me. That is one reason why I decided to come to the northern hemisphere. I just think there is a different dimension towards the rugby they play here.”

Botha acknowledges he wouldn’t be here but for the support of his wife, Anrike. They live in suburban Kingston, not too far from Harlequins’ training ground close by Twickenham. When the weather improves and the evenings lengthen, life at Kingston beside the River Thames could be very pleasant. But battling through the depths of the English winter is the more immediate task.

It’s all a far cry from last October when he proudly collected a World Cup winner’s medal, despite his limited playing involvement in France with the Springboks. Does Botha feel he could and perhaps should have played more during the tournament?

“If I was selfish I would have moaned about the World Cup,” he admits. “Everyone in the group wants to play in quarters, semi-finals and the final. No-one wants to sit in the stand. I would have liked to have played more and I think I should have done. I’d had a good Super 14 and I think I was the in-form hooker. But John was a good captain and a good player. And at the end of the day, we won the World Cup and my allegiance was to the Springboks and South Africa.

“I was part of something amazing and no-one can take that away from you at all. Just being there and picking up the whole vibe was awesome.”

Sentiments he is now experiencing on the other side of the English Channel.

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