Bok ‘blood brothers’ end on high

2015-11-21 22:17
Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Bakkies Botha, all 2.02m and 120kg of him, did his level best to look like an established master of the place-kicking craft.

He neurotically re-checked the placement of the ball after he had carefully put it on the Twickenham tee reasonably wide out on the right, and there was just a hint of a Jonny Wilkinson-style crouch and studied second glance at the posts before he took a few steps forward and gave the leather an indelicate thump.

The conversion ended up having a bit of a woer-woer element to it, as we say back in South Africa ... and no, regrettably John Philip Botha didn’t end his trophy-laden first-class career with an extra two points, even if all of us have seen considerably worse attempts by tight forwards.

It was anything but a decisive 81st-minute kick anyway, given that a slick Argentina comfortably beat the Barbarians 49-31 on Saturday after a fitting exhibition of rugby union in the coveted club’s 125th anniversary year.

But it would still have been immensely gratifying to many enthusiasts in SA to have witnessed BaaBaas captain Victor Matfield notch the game’s final try – never mind that the veteran athlete had to do little more than flop over – to facilitate his long-time “blood brother” at Test and domestic level having that priceless crack at a career-ending place-kick.

The 36-year-old Botha, not exactly oozing match fitness of late, had only entered the fray in the 66th minute as a replacement for much younger compatriot and fellow-Springbok Lood de Jager, so he had a poignant quarter of an hour back in alliance with the man he has so often teamed up with for the Boks and Bulls over the course of some 15 seasons since 2001.

They ended their lock partnership on a chilly London day sporting a ripe old combined age of 74 ... not far off the number of points scored in the suitably entertaining fixture, featuring some tries that would have made the watching BaaBaas icon of 1973, Gareth Edwards, pretty happy.

The Pumas underlined just how the game has progressed in their country recently as their expected, superior organisational sense held powerful sway and they both created and exploited excellent space through a polished, multi-faceted style of play - watch out for that first-time Argentinean outfit in Super Rugby 2016; they’ll be no mugs.

For the relatively little it mattered at the very end of a long and demanding season for southern hemisphere players, the SANZAR-loaded BaaBaas had their moments before the traditional “social” element of their get-together over a few days took its toll increasingly obviously as the game progressed.

From a purely South African perspective, De Jager having another crackerjack outing - simply carrying on where he had left off at the World Cup and before it this year - was a pleasing reminder that Bok lock stocks stay in quality hands now that Matfield and Botha have moved out.

The English television commentators lauded the Cheetahs player as both a standout athlete and physical presence on the day despite having “the face of a 14-year-old” and, with age strongly on their side, he and Eben Etzebeth look like taking the Boks through at least the next two World Cup cycles in a manner not unlike the prior excellence of the old Loftus-based duo.

It is worth remembering that Matfield isn’t quite done at first-class level yet, as he is now contracted to Northampton Saints for a year - and if he did anything on Saturday, it was confirm that he retains a healthily purring engine in stamina and mobility terms.

The other man from our shores to catch the eye in a relatively short burst of activity against the Pumas was Pat Lambie: he and Sharks colleague Cobus Reinach got on for the BaaBaas in the 51st minute, albeit not as a “nine and ten” partnership.

Lambie instead replaced All Black Ryan Crotty at inside centre and served up a useful reminder - as if it were needed - of his ability to cover at least three spots in a backline with confidence.

He quickly added some overdue punch and structure to an otherwise stuttering Barbarians backline, looking twinkle-toed and creative on attack and making at least one vital cover tackle when another Argentinean try looked virtually a fait accompli.

It mattered not a lot that the BaaBaas went down by a clear-cut 18 points; the game itself is always intended to be the winner on occasions like these and that was how things panned out.

Expect a few multi-national pints to be sunk in their midst, into the wee hours of Sunday.

With at least one, emotional round on Bakkies Botha ahead of closing time ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha (Gallo Images)

Read more on:    bakkies botha  |  victor matfield  |  rugby

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