Springboks great Bakkies Botha: ‘Rugby today is broken – no one knows what is happening’

Springboks great Bakkies Botha: ‘Rugby today is broken - no one knows what is happening’

Bakkies Botha was known for his combative style in the South Africa pack – Getty Images/Phil Walter

Bakkies Botha, the legendary South African World Cup winner, has hit out at the modern state of rugby union, labelling the sport “frustrating, ground down and inconsistent”.

Botha, who won 85 caps for the Springboks between 2002 and 2014, bemoaned the lack of playing variety and officiating consistency, while also lamenting the lack of ‘enforcers’ in the modern game – of which he would be considered one of the most notorious due to a string of controversial incidents and bans during his playing career.

“I understand the problem that World Rugby and its officials have at international level,” the 43-year-old told French rugby newspaper, Midi Olympique. “They have to protect the players, but our game has become frustrating, ground down and inconsistent.

“From one match to another, referees’ interpretations vary. In the stands or on the TV, people understand nothing.

“In my day, it seemed as though there were more personalities on the pitch. Today, players are all the same as each other. People called me an ‘enforcer’ – and I loved that! I found that it added spice to the spectacle – because professional sport is also that, a spectacle, isn’t it? The evolution of the laws has rid the sport of ‘enforcers’ in my mould; you cannot get away with scrapping in rucks like I did anymore.

“I don’t think that rugby today would suit me.”

Botha revealed that his 2011 move to Toulon – four years after a triumphant World Cup campaign with South Africa and two after a series win over the British and Irish Lions – was borne out of apathy towards the heavily-strategic direction of international rugby and a desire to find more expression within the sport.

South Africa's Bakkies Botha and British and Irish Lions Brian O'Driscoll scrap in 2009 - Springboks great Bakkies Botha: ‘Rugby today is broken - no one knows what is happening’

Botha and Brian O’Driscoll involved in a scuffle during a 2009 Lions Test – Reuters/Rogan Ward

“I left for France in 2011 because international rugby no longer suited me,” Botha added. “It had become too strategic, too cautious. It no longer allowed players to express their flair or their true nature.

“I discovered that the Top 14 did suit me, however: brutal, but within the laws. I loved it. I loved going to Agen, Brive, Grenoble; scrapping on greasy pitches. The worst injury of my career, I experienced in the Top 14. In Brive, someone broke my arm [a Brive forward was later suspected of inflicting this deliberately].

“The Top 14 was slower than Super Rugby but it was also a lot more physical. If you aren’t ready, the Top 14 chews you, breaks you, and spits you out. One day, in Agen, I tackled a guy. He didn’t like it and, as he was getting up, he stuck his boot into my head.

“I left the pitch with 15 stitches.”

As for the upcoming World Cup, Botha believes that it is the most open in history.

“I don’t doubt the capabilities of my Springboks,” he said. “But there are six or seven teams capable of winning the tournament.

“The French, if they can manage to absorb the pressure that comes with being hosts, will be dangerous. The All Blacks, the English, Scottish, Irish can also knock anyone over. As for the Fijians and Tongans, they have never been this well equipped.

“But I know to what extent public pressure, in France, is powerful. I’ve seen it at club level and with the Springboks. And, at the World Cup, that pressure will be heightened.”

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