Can the real Bakkies Botha please stand up?

RYAN VREDE writes that statistically Bakkies Botha has met norms, but argues he has never been a player whose value was measurable in statistics alone.

I have been critical of the Bulls and Springboks’ hard man, but closer analysis of his contributions was needed to form a more astute view.

My analysis of Botha suggests he has been statistically average to very good in some key performance areas. Consider the following: Botha has played roughly the equivalent of five matches (384 minutes). He has made a total of 45 tackles (13 missed) at an average of nine per match, carried 29 times and made 148m, cleaned/counter-rucked 58 attacking rucks and 42 defensive rucks – an average of 12 and six respectively. Furthermore he has conceded 11 penalties, six unforced errors and seven handling errors.

His tackle total and error count are the average for a Super Rugby No 4 lock, while his work rate at the rucks exceeds the norm for a player in his position. His metres made with ball in hand is below the average, but he is not a primary strike runner for the Bulls.

He is a player who gets better the more he plays. When you consider that he has had less game time than any senior Springbok in the past 18 months because of injuries and suspensions, you begin to see this issue in a different light and should be more optimistic regarding his future contributions to the Bulls and Springboks.

However, statistics don’t reflect important details, like his impact at the collisions, which hasn’t been what we’ve come to expect from him. Neither will they show how basic some of the errors he has made have been.

Part of the Bulls’ attacking impotency can undoubtedly be attributed to Botha’s failure to consistently breach the gainline. Consider also that the majority of those metres came in matches against relative minnows. Tellingly, his lowest contributions have come against the Stormers and Crusaders. They need him to be better than average, especially against elite opposition.

Botha’s cause is being undermined by the fact that the Bulls have seen considerably less of the ball than they have become accustomed to. He certainly isn’t solely to blame for their mediocrity at present, but his inability to meet the high standards he has set for himself has undoubtedly contributed to the team’s poor performances.

But if Botha is struggling I’d suggest those struggles are acute and not chronic. I certainly don’t believe they are beyond remediable. And they have to be, because Botha will start at the World Cup irrespective of whether his form wanes in Super Rugby or the Tri-Nations. Head coach Peter de Villiers is a believer, and Botha’s cause to retain the No 4 shirt is further aided by the fact that his close friend, Victor Matfield, yields significant influence on selections.

I can’t conclude for certain that Botha, 31, has touched the ceiling of his potential and is in decline. His stats will counter any such assertion, but I’ve already said that stats alone cannot be a measurement of any player, particularly not Botha.

I sense he is losing his aura, though, and is no longer the intimidating presence he once was. That is significant for the Bulls, and more pertinently the Springboks, because it has undoubtedly been the foundation of Botha’s potency. Aura is infinitely harder to rekindle than form is. But the Bulls and Springboks desperately need him to, the latter to help restore pride in a woeful campaign, the latter to aid in a World Cup title defence.

Can the real Bakkies Botha please stand up?

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