Botha eyes first England cap
July 1, 2011
Botha has his eyes on a potential England cap come August © Getty Images
South African-born lock Mouritz Botha has defended his inclusion in England's Rugby World Cup training squad and insists he is a product of the English rugby system.
The 29-year-old Saracens second row, who was born in KwaZulu-Natal, enjoyed a hugely successful Churchill Cup campaign with the Saxons last month and was rewarded with a place in Martin Johnson's preliminary 45-man training squad. His inclusion at the expense of home-grown talent sparked criticism in some quarters but Botha, who has spent the last seven years climbing through the English rugby ranks with National Three North side Bedford Athletic, Championship outfit Bedford Blues and Premiership giants Sarries, insists his allegiance lies with his adopted country.
"I consider myself a product of the English rugby system," he told RFU.com. "Coming through grassroots levels and learning your rugby knowledge and being coached to become a better player. I feel like I owe it to England and it's a great honour [to be named in the preliminary world cup squad], there will be no hesitation to play for England if that opportunity arises.
"When I came over to England the dream of playing for the Springboks faded. When I signed for Saracens there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to play for England," added Botha, who is joined in the current England squad by fellow South Africans Matt Stevens and Hendre Fourie. "After my first pre-season I had a chat with the club psychologist and I said that my goal was to play for England - obviously he couldn't laugh at me because he's there to support me - and I felt there was the opportunity to realise it."
Botha's journey to the the international ranks has not come easily having been dismissed as "too small" as he tried to make a name for himself in South Africa. "I was playing first team club rugby in South Africa but was told I was a bit small and too light - at the time I weighed about 105kg [16 and a half stone]," he said. "I was working full time and the hours didn't allow for me to go to the gym at all and it was going to be a continuous cycle.
"I wanted to focus more on rugby so I decided to fire my CV off to a few clubs I found on the internet, and Bedford Athletic rang me up and said that they would offer me something. I had never heard of them before but there were no other interested clubs for them to compete with. Their selling point was that [Championship side] Bedford Blues are in the same town and if I did well there could be the opportunity to go on and play for them."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"Gentlemen, if you want to see the World Cup going south yet again, you are going the right way about it," John Taylor looks at the state of European rugby
The Heineken Cup proved once again just why it is the best domestic rugby competition in the world at the weekend and Monday Maul picks out some of the key talking points
The latest Week in Pictures brings you a selection of the best snaps from around the rugby world with scantily clad ladies, O'Driscoll and snow all featuring