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    Sharks' Botha would be an international player anywhere else

    2019-05-13 19:18

    Gavin Rich - SuperSport.com

    Durban - There has rightly been much focus on the role that Curwin Bosch’s switch back to flyhalf has played in making the Sharks more competitive, but it would be wrong to overlook the role that some key big men have played in transforming the pack.

    Jean-Luc du Preez is a special player that Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus really shouldn’t overlook when he selects his World Cup squad later this year, and Philip van der Walt adds experience that was previously lacking. Both of those players were absent through injury for the first part of the season and are now back in the mix and driving the Sharks forward.

    But perhaps the most noticeable change to the Sharks over the past few weeks has been the second row, where Ruan Botha, last year’s captain, has been nothing short of outstanding and appears to be vindicating his former Western Province Vodacom Cup coach John Dobson’s 2013 claim that he will become a Springbok.

    Okay, so lock is a position where South Africa is well served, and if Lood de Jager recovers from his injuries he will add further to the enviable options the country has at No 5. Franco Mostert, now playing overseas, will doubtless still be in the mix, and let’s not forget that Pieter-Steph du Toit plays there too when he’s not wearing the No 7 signifying blindside flank.

    But Botha is good enough to suggest that were he a citizen of any other country, he would have played international rugby by now.

    It was Du Toit’s move to the Cape at the start of 2016 that prompted Botha to pack his bags and head to Durban at a time when he was fast developing into the perfect partner for Springbok Eben Etzebeth in the Stormers second row.

    Would Botha have continued as first choice Western Province and Stormers No 5 had Du Toit announced an intention when he arrived of shifting to loose-forward? Perhaps, but then you must also remember WP have JD Schickerling on their books. He is a highly regarded player who toured with the Boks late last year and could be the go-to man for the Boks in the next World Cup cycle if he can overcome the injury bogey that keeps him from picking up a proper head of steam.

    Whatever the case, the Stormers’ loss is proving to be the Sharks’ gain, with Botha turning in a big-hearted and impressive effort in an ultimately vain cause against the Chiefs in Hamilton at the weekend. Although the Sharks lost, the two teams who played at home were no great shakes so the best Sharks player on the day (just ahead of Bosch in the final analysis) is our Player of the Week.

    Botha first started making his presence felt when he was part of the South African under-20 team that won the Junior Word Championship in Cape Town in 2012, but he was blooded in Super Rugby before that by the Lions coach at the time, John Mitchell. The product of Jeugland Hoerskool was still just 20 when he made his Super Rugby debut for the Lions against the Chiefs in Pukekohe.

    Botha brings massive physicality to the Sharks’ second row - at 2.04 metres and 124 kilograms he is what can be described as a rugby behemoth - and it is no coincidence that now that he is back in tow we are also seeing the best being brought out of his lock partners. Ruben van Heerden was good against the Crusaders, but Hyron Andrews was even better in this last match.

    Playing Andrews in the No 4 jersey when Botha is in the No 5 seems a bit incongruous (they’re in the Bakkies Botha/Victor Matfield combination but with the reverse numbering), but Andrews is a mobile player with a high work-rate who is possibly freed more to play that role when Botha’s staunchness is present. It was fitting that both locks scored the only two tries the Sharks scored in New Zealand.

    Botha played a big role in getting the Sharks some go-forward in the later stages of the first half and into the third quarter after a bit of a lacklustre start. The television stats reflected afterwards that he made nine carries, all of them aggressive and impactful, and an impressive, for a lock, 16 tackles in Hamilton.

    Ironically it was when the Sharks played against his former Stormers teammates that Botha sustained the injury that kept him from the playing field until the start of the Australasian tour. It is ironic for more than just the reason that he used to play for the Cape team - they were also the first side to front the Sharks physically after the Sharks had made an impressive start to the competition.

    There is potentially a massive mini-final looming in the Sharks’ future on the last day of the league season when they visit Cape Town to play against a Stormers team that, when at full strength, features the bulk of the Bok pack. If the Sharks are still in with a sniff of conference success at that point they will want Botha to be present as he holds the key to their ability to be able to front the Stormers physically in the same way as the Stormers fronted them in Durban in March.

    Botha played for the South Africa A team in 2017 and may have gone further than that by now were it not for the unwanted reputation for over-robustness that has bugged him since he was red carded playing for the national second string team against France A at Orlando Stadium. He was sent off for charging dangerously into a ruck, and was suspended again following a red card for dangerous play against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires last year.

    Botha, who plays for Kubota Spears in Japan in the summer months, will be doing his team and possibly his own national aspirations a lot of good if he can pocket that tendency and rather continue to draw off the controlled aggression that proved such a thorn to the Chiefs at the weekend.

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