Legendary Springbok lock Bakkies Botha is ‘humbled but also proud’ of his legacy after being hailed ‘the greatest player’ by former Toulon coach Bernard Laporte.
The current vice-chairman of World Rugby, Laporte coached France between 1999 and 2007 before establishing Toulon as European heavyweights between 2011 and 2016.
Botha was Laporte’s key signing in his first season at the helm, by the former Toulon coach’s own admission.
‘Bakkies Botha is the greatest player I have coached in my career,’ Laporte said last week. ‘As a player, I’d say Bakkies Botha was my idol.’
Botha took to social media in response to Laporte’s comments.
‘I have always thought of myself as one of a kind, but to read a special man like Bernard Laporte say I was the best player he ever coached made me feel humbled but also proud,’ he tweeted. ‘I went to Toulon to create rugby history and we did. Regards and Blessings, THE REAL ENFORCER.’
I have always thought of myself as one of a kind,but to read a special man like @BernardLaporte_ say I was the best player he ever coached made me feel humbled but also proud.I went to @rugbytoulon_ to create rugby history and we did 🔴⚫️🏆Regards and Blessings THE REAL ENFORCER pic.twitter.com/fbNHErlIo8
— Bakkies Botha (@BakkiesBotha4) April 7, 2021
Perhaps the most decorated player in the history of professional rugby, Botha did it all in a 16-year career that began at the Falcons in 1999 and ended at French giants Toulon in 2015.
He won a Rugby World Cup (2007), the 2009 series against the British & Irish Lions, the Rugby Championship (2004, 2009), Super Rugby (2007, 2009, 2010), the Currie Cup (2002, 2004, 2006, 2009), Vodacom Cup (2001) and, after joining Toulon in 2011, Botha won Europe’s Champions Cup three times (2013, 2014, 2015) and the Top 14 title in 2014.
Botha built his reputation as the definitive enforcer while on duty for the powerhouse Vodacom Bulls and earned 76 caps for the all-conquering Springboks before heading to France in 2011 at the age of 32.
Players on the wrong side of 30 generally head north for the cash windfall as their career crosses the finish line, but Botha was just getting started.
The veteran lock added an adamantine edge to a star-studded Toulon lineup that powered to three successive European titles.
Botha packed down in a tight five that at times featured All Blacks jumper Ali Williams and tighthead prop Carl Hayman, while the back row boasted the grit and grunt of Bok hammers Juan Smith and Danie Rossouw.
The backline was equally illustrious, as Jonny Wilkinson and Matt Giteau formed a dynamic 10-12 axis, Bryan Habana and Drew Mitchell added the speed out wide and Leigh Halfpenny danced from fullback.
Toulon’s three championship teams featured seven South Africans, including Bok flank Joe van Niekerk, who made 122 appearances for the club between 2008 and 2014, Botha, Rossouw, Smith, Habana, former Sharks hooker Craig Burden and eight-Test scrumhalf Michael Claassens.
Widely regarded as rugby’s quintessential hard man, Botha’s status as a brute is not supported by a relatively clean disciplinary record – his four yellow cards in 85 Test matches don’t even qualify him among the top-three transgressors in Springbok history – Habana (seven yellow cards), Schalk Burger (six) and Victor Matfield (five).
Needless to say, Botha is one of the first names mentioned in a Bok dream team and it comes as no surprise that he’s selected at No 4 in The Chosen 23, written by Mark Keohane.