Gary Botha insists ‘team comes first’

It has been a long, long wait for Gary Botha to get his first run-on match in the South Africa shirt, but what a time to do so! A crunch match, at home, against the world number one, a pivotal clash in the Tri-Nations… on and on it goes.

Botha has made six replacement appearances already, the most recent one coming against Australia last week where he played most of the game coming on for the injured John Smit.

Six matches is quite a spell to wait before actually strutting onto the park as a starter, but that is the unfortunate price to pay for being the back-up to the team captain.

It is a frustrating scenario, for often the captain of a team can get away with a slight loss of form that others in the team could not get away with, leaving the reserves cold. But for Botha, it is the team that comes before personal ambition.

“Rugby is a team sport and it is about using all the support and the structures,” he said.

“You can’t look at my position as being the replacement for the captain and so I haven’t got a hope when he comes back, you will get side-tracked. I say once again, it is a team sport and the team comes first.

“It’s a tremendous honour to start any Test. It’s taken me a little longer than usual, but it is awesome being in South Africa.

“We are all in the same boat, we all hold the dream of lifting the Rugby World Cup this year, so if you put personal things like that first, you will lose track of that so at this stage it is all about the team.

“Obviously you get more confidence from playing more, that is how you shape yourself as a player. I got a lot of time last week, and I am looking forward to some more time this week.”

As well as not looking at individuals within the team, Botha is not too concerned with individual battles on the pitch either, despite the focus from many observers on the battle between himself and Anton Oliver at hooker.

“I don’t believe in looking at personal battles,” said Botha at the team announcement.

“But he (Oliver) is a world-class hooker and I am looking to pick up the experience from him. It will be a good benchmark for me.”

Perhaps it is fortunate that Smit’s injury was so early in last week’s match, for Botha, still sporting a fat lip and a cut on the face from last week’s clash against Australia, has now been played in, rather than coming into the game with mere rest and cameos behind him.

And he is expecting more of the same some this weekend.

“At this stage in World Cup year, any team you approach in Test matches throw the kitchen sink at one another regardless of condition,” he said.

“It is always good to have had a rumble before you play a team like the All Blacks, but at the end of the day they are a physical rugby nation as well. It will be tough. But the preparations have gone well.”

By Danny Stephens in Durban 365 Digital

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