Ex-England prop: What it feels like to be punched by Springboks enforcer Bakkies Botha

Jared Wright
Ex-Springboks lock Bakkies Botha and former England prop Matt Stevens.

Ex-Springboks lock Bakkies Botha and former England prop Matt Stevens.

Springboks lock Bakkies Botha was notorious for his physicality and brutality on the pitch, earning him the nickname ‘The Enforcer’.

The World Cup-winning second rower was infamous for his craft in the days before the TMOs and countless cameras keeping an eye on the action, and he made the most of it, as many players have revealed over the years, including South African-born ex-England and Lions prop Matt Stevens.

Bakkies Botha punching Matt Stevens

Ex-Springboks skipper John Smit has recounted the story of Stevens’ run-in with Botha on countless occasions, explaining how the Bok lock couldn’t understand how Stevens decided to play for England over South Africa.

“Matty Stevens was playing for England for the first time in South Africa and Bakkies couldn’t understand how this guy born in South Africa could play for the queen,” Smith told the House of Rugby podcast back in 2019.

“He just didn’t get it; I thought I had explained it pretty well, but it turns out I didn’t, and in the first scrum, he loaded on the left-hand side, which is where he doesn’t normally scrum – he normally scrums on the tighthead.

“I realised what was coming, so I shifted to the right and Bakkies came through and hit him so plumb right here (Smit pointing to his eye) and he split him open like the most perfect happy emoji.

“He [Stevens] went off to the doctor, and they stitched him up; 14 stitches later, eight minutes, and the first scrum back; Bakkies is on the left-hand side again.

“So now, I know what’s coming, and I keep to the right and his aim wasn’t as good; only eight of the 14 stitches popped out. That sort of took us to half-time, and I said, ‘Bakkies, I think that’s enough’, and he looked up and said, ‘Just one more, please’.”

Stevens responds

Smit has retold the story multiple times, and now Stevens has had his say on the incident, although he can’t remember too much of it.

“It’s kind of folded into the age,” Stevens said on the Boks Office podcast when Jean de Villiers asked him where the scar was.

While Stevens wouldn’t have been able to see the funny side of the situation back then, he can now and had former Springboks De Villiers and Hanyani Shimange in stitches as he recounted the events from his perspective.

“I mean, everyone’s got a version of that story, and I think it’s one of John’s [Smit] favourites, his go-to story; he should get some new material,” Stevens added, taking a shot at his former Saracens teammate.

“The man [Botha] has hands the size of dinner plates, so when it comes through, and it’s got the power of a ten-tonne truck behind, it knocks you.

“Everyone talks about Bakkies and how wonderful it is, but to be the guy on the other side of it just to change perspectives here, Bakkies had the opportunity to take out his aggression on me scrum after scrum.

“It was the first time that I played against South Africa, and he’s lauded for it, and he’s a hero, but on the other side of that, I had to go into scrum after scrum and take a punch in the face while I couldn’t move.”

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Jujitsu champ and rugby career

Stevens added that he feels that he ‘should get some type of commission’ from John Smit, who has regularly told the story at events.

The ex-England prop is a blue belt Jujitsu British champion and also joked that the incident with Bakkies Botha led him to the martial art.

“Yeah, after Bakkies, I realised that I needed to learn how to protect myself, and Jujitsu is one of those things that can help you take on the bigger guy,” Stevens joked.

Born in Durban, South Africa to English parents, Stevens grew up in South Africa and represented Western Province, South African Universities and the Junior Springboks at under 18 and 19 level before moving to the UK.

There, he attended the University of Bath before joining the Premiership club. He later joined Saracens before returning to South Africa for a stint with the Sharks and ended his career with Toulon.

He earned 39 Test caps for England and went on the 2005 and 2013 British and Irish Lions tours.

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