‘Baa Baas not last chance’

Keo.co.za spoke to BJ Botha about his selection for the Barbarians and Brent Russell on Clermont’s Top 14 title hopes.

Botha was selected for the Barbarians last week to play England on 30 May and Australia on 6 June. It will be his debut appearance for the invitational side and will catapult him onto the international stage for the first time in a year, but Botha doesn’t consider it the last chance to prove himself for the Lions series.

‘My intentions are to enjoy being part of the team and enjoy playing internationals again,’ Botha told keo.co.za. ‘Every game I’ve played for Ulster, whether it has been Heineken Cup or Magners League, I’ve played as though I’m still in consideration for the Boks.

‘Baa Baas fixtures will be loose, while there’s not much time to build combinations, but that’s what makes it special. I don’t view it as my last chance as I’ve been trying to perform the whole year,’ he said.

The Boks’ policy on overseas players is unclear, but Botha could be an outside candidate for the Lions series, especially with CJ van der Linde ruled out of the rest of Leinster’s season.

‘I haven’t had much contact, but I’ve tried to give them a reason to select me with my performances. It’s difficult with not much TV coverage, so selections are made on a guy’s past profile, but I know every South African overseas wants to play for the Boks again.’

Botha’s Ulster, alongside team-mate Robbie Diack, downed Connacht 14-12 in the Magners League on Friday.

‘The weather was atrocious – it was like Hurricane Katrina out there!’

Meanwhile, Russell’s Clermont savaged already relegated Mont-de-Marsan 66-3. Russell’s team face the bottom-placed Dax this weekend and the original pocket rocket says the team have altered their approach as they have already qualified for the play-offs.

‘We are playing against weaker sides but we decided we will train like we are playing the semi already,’ said Russell. ‘The week before the semi, we will ease off a bit as the fitness and preparation will be done, it will just be a case of concentrating on the actual game.’

Russell has been used predominantly at fullback and flyhalf and he has enjoyed a return to pivot.

‘I’ve never been in a side with so much competition, in our back three alone we have five other internationals [Benoit Baby, Napolioni Nalaga, Anthony Floch, Julien Malzieu and Aurelien Rougerie]. Brock James is first choice No 10, but I’ve enjoyed starting there the last few weeks. I haven’t had an extended run since my days at the Pumas, so I’m enjoying the decision-making and taking control.’

The other semi-finalists include Shaun Sowerby, Daan Human and Gaffie du Toit’s Toulouse, Stade Francais (Noel Oelschig’s club), as well as Perpignan.

‘You won’t believe how many South Africans are here, after-match functions are like a reunion for us,’ said Russell. ’[Former Shark] Steve Meyer is playing well at flyhalf for Perpignan, while Gerrie Britz seems to score every week.

‘I’m loving French rugby compared to the English Premiership, it definitely suits my game. The one thing I can complain about is the refereeing – in one of the highest paid leagues we don’t have professional officials, so they are very inconsistent.’

The semis will be played at neutral venues on 23 May.

Scorers in the Top 14 were littered with South African names this weekend, as former Lions centre Rudi Coetzee touched down for Bourgoin, as did Coos Basson. Jacques Schutte (Montpellier) and Johan van Zyl (Brive) scored in their match, as did Gavin Hume for Perpignan.

In the Premiership semis, despite Michael Claassens’s try Bath were knocked out by Leicester (who Marco Wentzel plays for), while Gary Botha and De Wet Barry’s Harlequins lost to Danie Coetzee’s London Irish.

By Grant Ball