Cape Town - Springbok lock and Rugby World Cup winner Bakkies Botha announced his retirement from international rugby on Saturday.
As it happened: Italy v Springboks
Botha made his Test debut on November 9, 2002 against France in Marseille, while his 85th and final appearance for South Africa was last Saturday, when he came on as a replacement in the 31-28 victory over England at Twickenham.
During a stellar career, the 35-year-old lock won the Rugby World Cup with the Springboks in 2007 and was victorious at almost every other level of the game.
He has winners’ medals from the Rugby Championship (Tri-Nations), British & Irish Lions Series, Super Rugby, Currie Cup and Vodacom Cup, as well as the Heineken Cup and French Top 14.
Botha is the seventh most-capped Springbok of all time, is a three-time SA Rugby Player of the Year nominee (2003, 2004 and 2005) and holds the world record for the most Tests as a lock combination in the starting line-up with Victor Matfield (63).
“The news of my retirement will probably be described as sudden and unexpected, but it is a decision that I’ve been mulling over since 2011,” said Botha.
“When I limped off the field during the Rugby World Cup in 2011 with an Achilles injury, I knew that I did not leave on my terms and that I didn’t say goodbye to the Bok jersey like I had wanted to.
“What was ‘my terms’? I wanted to leave the jersey behind knowing I honoured the men who wore it before me, as well as the people who had supported me throughout my career.
“More importantly, I wanted to show to the men who would go on to play in the jersey after me what it meant to put your life on the line for your country and the Springboks. I did not manage to do that and it left a burning desire within me to keep on working hard to perhaps don that famous jersey one more time.
“I recovered fully from my injury and was privileged enough to be involved with a world-class French club. I had wonderfully supportive team-mates and supporters at Toulon in France, but deep inside, I still had a burning desire to play just one more time for South Africa.
“I am a religious man and I asked for guidance and how to deal with this desire I still had in me. When coach Heyneke (Meyer) selected me for the end-of-year tour last November, to mentor young players and to possibly spend one more minute on the field in green and gold with the leaping springbok on my chest, I knew that my prayers had been answered.
“I was blessed that I was given one more opportunity to represent my country and all our supporters, something no money in the world can buy.
“When I joined the team in November 2013, a total new environment welcomed me. The squad included a couple of superb young locks and it was such a privilege to see in their eyes that they were prepared to listen and learn from my experiences.
“I realised that the next generation of South African locks were not only good, they were the best in the rugby world.
“And when I took to the field against Scotland in Edinburgh, I had inner peace. That one more time in Green and Gold was enough to fill that burning desire I had in me since 2011.
“However, my expectations were exceeded a week later. I was afforded another opportunity when I came on as early replacement against France in Paris. After we’ve won, I once again realised how special it is to stand in that circle wearing the Green and Gold one last time.
“Earlier this year, I was blessed yet again to be involved with the Springboks. I felt I was at my best playing for Toulon as we won the Heineken Cup and the French Top 14 titles, but I wasn’t expecting a Springbok call-up.
“Upon my return to the squad in 2014, I encountered even more good young locks coming through the ranks, as well as my old ‘combo’ and friend, Victor Matfield.
“I was very happy to start at Loftus Versfeld against Argentina, a venue which is very dear to me. Despite my involvement and contribution on the day, the question dawned upon me - what will my role be for the Springboks going forward, and will my involvement be in the team’s best interests, building up to the Rugby World Cup in 2015.
“I considered all my options and realised that with the talent coming through at lock in South Africa, the time has come for me to call time on my Springbok career. In my opinion, it’s time for me to step down and to hand over the mantle to the next Springbok generation.
“The game, the jersey, the supporters and my country are more important than anything else. I would love to play in more Tests, but in life there is a time for everything and my time to wear the Green and Gold has come to an end.
“I prayed about this, held discussions with my wife and other parties whose judgements and opinions I trust and I have peace with my decision. I have no doubt that the men who will take over from me, will do the job just as well as, if not better, than what I did.
“My announcement is made retrospectively for good reasons. I didn’t want to make this announcement before today’s Test against Italy, as I didn’t want to detract the focus of my team-mates from this very important match. Coach Heyneke was willing to pick me for this Test, but I requested him not to because I didn’t want to make a big thing out of it.
“I wanted this Test to be about the Springboks and not about me. It is my decision because in my eyes, the team always comes first and I didn’t want to be branded as arrogant and self-centred.
“To be able to make this decision on my own terms, knowing I’m still good enough to play Test rugby, is a huge blessing.
“I want to thank everyone involved in my career for the opportunities I was given, as well as the supporters of the teams I represented for staying loyal to me even when I let them down. To those I do not mention in giving thanks, you are the ones I will thank in person.
“I want to give honour to God for protecting me and allowing me the grace of good health, and especially my beautiful wife, Carien, and my three beautiful children, who supported me throughout my career. I know that every day I get out of bed being able to walk, talk and dream about the future is just a gift money can’t buy, no matter what your resources are.
“I’m planning to finish my contract with Toulon and defend our titles this season. And who knows, perhaps there is a province in South Africa who can see me add value to their Currie Cup campaign next year and I can play my final match in my beloved country of birth before finally hanging up my boots at the end of 2015 at all levels of the game.”