Bakkies Botha will not retire from Test rugby, saying he intends playing two to three more seasons for the Springboks.
The 32-year-old’s World Cup is over after he sustained another blow to his fragile Achilles tendon in training on Wednesday. The 76-Test veteran will leave for South Africa immediately to establish the severity of the injury and begin rehabilitation before commencing a three-year contract with French Top 14 side Toulon on 1 November.
It was widely assumed that Botha would announce his retirement at the end of the World Cup, but he was vehement in his belief that he could still compete at Test level.
‘I’m definitely not done with the Springboks. I believe I have two to three years of rugby left in me, so my phone will be on and I’ll be ready to take the call from the [Springboks] coach if he needs me,’ Botha said.
‘The first focus is getting this injury seen to and to come back harder and stronger for Toulon. The goal is to get them into the Heineken Cup, but the desire to play for the Springboks is still very strong.’
Coach Peter de Villiers has been reluctant to pick overseas-based players, and while his successor’s view on this matter won’t be established until he takes the helm, it is likely that locally-based players will get preference. Asked if he was mindful of this, Botha said: ‘There’s a lot of calmness in me about that situation. I know it is a 50-50 and I’ve made peace with that.’
The second rower has styled himself as the enforcer in the Springboks’ ranks, but admitted to a deep sense of sadness upon hearing the medical team’s assessment of the injury. ‘I’m not one to show my emotions, but deep down I was very heartsore.
‘I have to lift my head though. It serves nobody in this team to see me down. They don’t need that negative energy and it will become a distraction if that was the case. We’ve got an outstanding replacement in Danie Rossouw. He has exploded in the last while and I believe he can make a difference against the Aussies. He’ll get stuck into them.’
Long time team-mate at the Springboks Bryan Habana paid tribute to the fallen soldier. ‘Bakkies had a talk to the team this morning and he got pretty emotional. He gave his heart to this country. His ability to bring the team together will be missed and live in our hearts forever. The mood in the team room was pretty sombre when we heard the news,’ Habana said.
Botha lamented not being able to reunite with Victor Matfield, whom he lined up alongside in a record 56 Tests (Matfield will retire at the conclusion of the Springboks’ campaign). ‘I’m most sad that Victor and I won’t have the chance to help the team defend the title. Just a couple more battles would have been great.’
He added that he was excited by the prospect of joining Toulon, saying that he has been in contact with former Springbok team-mate and club captain Joe van Niekerk, who he described as ‘the mayor of Toulon’.
‘Victor also spoke to me about the passion of the people in the city [Matfield played there in 2008 for six months]. The majority are working-class who have a deep love for the club and its players.
‘I’m not going there for a retirement package. I truly believe I have a lot to offer still. Getting the team into the Heineken Cup is the objective and if I play well there I hope to get that call from the Springboks coach.’
By Ryan Vrede, in Wellington.
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