Bakkies Botha knows the British & Irish Lions will try and get under his skin, but insists that he won’t respond rashly.
Botha broke the nauseating trend of compliment exchanges between the sides when he said that ‘nobody has bossed Victor Matfield when I’ve played’ in response to Willie John McBride’s assertion that Paul O’Connell would do exactly that.
It was typical Botha, who has never been known for his diplomacy, and the statement ignited a series that was in desperate need of some smack talk.
The Springboks have relied heavily on Botha’s physicality over the past six years, and he will again be deployed to ensure that the Lions limp off King’s Park.
However, Botha has become as renowned for his short fuse as he has for his indifferent attitude to diplomacy, and has paid dearly for his impetuosity in the recent past, most notably in incidents involving Phil Waugh and Ryan Kankowski in the Super 14.
However, Botha believes his self-control has improved markedly in recent years. He predicted that the Lions will seek to elicit an overly aggressive response from him by pushing his buttons, but stressed that he won’t be baited.
‘I’ve noticed since last year it’s been a tactic to try and provoke me,’ Botha told keo.co.za.
‘Teams try to test my limits, to push my boundaries. But I know it’s coming, so I’m prepared. I think I’ve become a lot better in terms of channelling my aggression into something that can affect the team positively.
‘There’s always a bit of needle in Test matches, and I don’t expect this one to be any different. But the key is to stay disciplined, and hopefully we all can do that.’
On Friday Botha was asked who he thought the Lions’ strongest second row pairing was, and was forthright in his belief that Ireland’s Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan represented the biggest threat to the Springboks. He did, however, concede that Simon Shaw’s physicality may see him start.
At this stage Botha is still unsure who will partner O’Connell (Alun-Wyn Jones is reported to be the favourite), but was adamant that they didn’t care.
‘Jones, Shaw or O’Callaghan all have a chance, but it doesn’t matter who they pick. They wouldn’t be here if they all weren’t good players,’ he said.
‘We’re focused on what we want to achieve. We want to execute accurately at the lineout, and no matter who they play, we know they will want to make that as difficult as possible for us.’
He continued, saying, ‘Our preparation has gone well and we’re pretty confident about all facets of our play. Obviously my focus is the scrums and lineouts and those are both running smoothly.’
Botha added that there was a danger of becoming too emotional because of the magnitude of the occasion, and that that could adversely affect performance. He said it was imperative that the Springboks eliminated emotion from the equation and ‘kept cool heads’.
‘Obviously this is a special Test, it’s like no other that we’ll play, but we can’t get swept away in the emotion,’ he said. ‘We have to look at this Test in isolation, and not make it bigger than it actually is.’
By Ryan Vrede, in Durban