Naas Botha: field general supreme

The Naas Botha of today is a well-known rugby commentator on the South African Supersport Channel, but in his day as a player he was one of the most feared match-winners in the game. Botha was best known for his deadly boot – whether he was punting the ball, place-kicking or drop-kicking, he stood in a class of his own.

Such was his brilliance that it didn’t take the British press long to dub him “Nasty Booter” when the Lions toured South Africa in 1980. They found out just how nasty he could be in the third test in Port Elizabeth when Botha, under immense pressure, put a touchline conversion between the uprights in wet conditions to give the Springboks a 12-10 victory and an unbeatable three-nil series lead.

More than just a points machine

Botha was more than just a points machine, however. His tactical understanding of the game was outstanding and his ability to dominate a match with the boot beyond compare.

Reading the game like a chess master, he would keep the opposition continually on the back foot, and was always a step ahead of the rest because he could put what was in his mind into practice.

Kicking with equal ease with the left or right foot, he could put the ball into touch, or between the uprights, or into the hands of a breakaway wing, seemingly at will.

To categorise Botha as a kicking flyhalf alone would do the man a great injustice. Blessed with superb hands, he got a backline moving very quickly, and the fact of the matter is that backlines playing with him scored a good many tries.

Although he seldom took the ball up in the manner of the modern-day flyhalf, he had an eye for a gap and was a deceptively fast runner, resulting in a good number of tries for the blond-haired flyhalf or those in support of him.

Uncanny ability as a drop-kicker

Probably, though, Botha will best be remembered for his uncanny ability as a drop-kicker. In the wink of an eye he could change the course of a game with a beautifully struck drop goal, and trying to defend against it was impossible given his ability to make the snap drop-kick without warning and with either foot.

In one match against Natal in 1992, he dropped five goals. He was an extremely elusive player, with an excellent jink. Every opponent he faced knew he was the kingpin they needed to unsettle, but seldom did they manage to lay a hand on him.

Botha was hated by fans of teams that his Northern Transvaal side faced in provincial competition – and adored by those same supporters when he turned out for the Springboks. There was a similarity between Botha and the legendary New Zealand captain Sean Fitzpatrick in that opposition fans hated him, but all would have loved to have him in their side.

Springbok record

Today the former Bok captain is the third highest scorer in Springbok history, and had he been playing in recent years, with far more matches, there is no doubt that he would have far exceeded his points total of 312. As it was, he was in his prime and played for many years when South Africa was isolated from the rest of the world, denying him the chance of achieving even greater success on the world stage.

He played for Northern Transvaal from the late 1970s into the early 1990s, and during that time the Blue Bulls won the Currie Cup six times, in large part due to his contributions. He captained the province a record 128 times and scored a record 2 511 points, including 1 699 points in the Currie Cup.

Botha also has the distinction, uncommon among rugby players, of having a rose named after him. Long may “Rosa Naas Botha” bloom, to remind us of one the greatest Springboks and flyhalves the world of rugby has ever seen.

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