Bakkies set the benchmark

Date published: November 25 2014

Love him or hate him, no one can deny that retiring Springbok lock Bakkies Botha left a giant mark on the game.

Love him or hate him, no one can deny that retiring Springbok lock Bakkies Botha left a giant mark on the game.

Quite a few marks actually, usually of a blueish-purple sort of colour.

On the field, Botha wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, a contributor to this website once labelled him a “thug,” sparking a storm of debate in our comments section that took about three years to subside.

Off the field, however, you could not have met a more polite, courteous man. I remember very clearly the first time I met him. I was shocked, and not just by his monster frame.

Having witnessed his antics on TV, I expected to be confronted with an arrogant, brash, loudmouth who had grown accustomed to getting his way by the simple merit of being bigger than… well… everyone. Yet, I was met by a softly-spoken, humble and genuinely down-to-earth gentleman.

You see, Bakkies is one of those freaks of nature that has spent his whole life having to live with the fact that he could simply crush any idiot that dared to cross his path but couldn’t. Rugby gave him the outlet to unleash his inner psychopath, and I think it’s safe to say, society is better off for it.

“People are wrong about me. I do not eat children,” Botha said when he arrived in Toulon, with his typically blunt sense of humour.

Back on the field, he no doubt coloured outside of the lines of what is acceptable on a few too many occasions, but Botha was born to play contact sport and went on to set a new benchmark for what skinny journos like to call ‘physicality.’

It’s true that there’s nothing delicate about the way Botha goes about his business – and let’s not forget that he’ll keep doing it for Toulon for a few months yet – but would you rather have had him in your team, or playing for the opposition?

The term ‘Enforcer’ was coined to describe his role in the all-conquering Bok pack that won the 2007 World Cup and no player since has managed to match the destruction caused by his 124-odd kilogram frame when he was at his peak.

Alongside Victor Matfield, the Boks were blessed with the greatest second-row combination the game has ever seen as Matfield’s athleticism was balanced by Botha’s sheer grunt.

Unless Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock go on to win a couple of World Cups, it’s hard to see any other duo coming close to the standard set by the pair that won three Super Rugby titles for the Bulls.

The most remarkable thing about a career that has seen him win just about every club and international trophy available, is the way he called time on his contribution to the international scene.

The Bok coaching staff are clearly very disappointed to seen him go as he was part of their World Cup plans but it’s a tribute to his character that he chose to go out before his standards dropped.

He insisted that there would be no grand goodbye or fanfare, keeping his decision secret from his team-mates until after their clash against Italy. It was great example of how to put to put the team first.

He could have stuck around for another year but his heart would not have been in it.

It was 100 percent or nothing. And when it was all done and won, he quietly went back to his family. There are a few far-less talented players out there who would do well to follow his example.

By Ross Hastie