He has come a long way since he worked as a flour delivery man to augment his Sharks Under-20 wages, and he is not quite sure where he is going to end up, but the one thing Butch James is sure about is that he will not be lost to rugby.
The 34-year-old’s long, illustrious and sometimes controversial career ground to a halt last October after a “mentoring” role for the Sharks in the Currie Cup, and it has been something of a bits-and-pieces retirement for him so far.
He assisted John Mitchell in the coaching of the University of Pietermaritzburg “Impi” team in the Varsity Cup, and lately he has been kicking coach for the Sharks’ age group teams and now he is in the unexpected role of talent scout.
James won’t mind it being said that he never struck observers as being a studious type, but this Easter he will be at as many school boy festivals as he can get to, notebook and pen in hand.
“I am helping out with recruitment at the Sharks, and this is the time of the year when the ‘lighties’ get signed up,” the amiable James says. “I am enjoying it. Jake White (the Sharks Director of Rugby) is helping me a lot with what to look out for. He still has a great love for school boy rugby.”
White has not yet involved James in the senior side, but that could change if James fully embraces coaching as a career
“I am not 100percent convinced that I am cut out to be a full-time coach, but my philosophy in life is not to rush things.”
He is, meanwhile, keeping a close eye on current Sharks flyhalf Fred Zeilinga, the youngster he guided during the Currie Cup.
“It was a shock to the system to the Sharks when Patrick Lambie was suddenly out for the season, he was the general, but having played with Fred, I had no worries about him slotting in,” James says. “And he has done really well.
“Fred already has that crucial knack of knowing when to pass and when to kick, and he has a massive boot on him when he chooses to kick,” James says. “He will do well with that kicking game (at altitude) at Ellis Park on Saturday against the Lions.”
This fixture has grabbed the fascination of James, who in the last two years has played Super Rugby for both sides and knows each coach intimately.
“I can tell you that the Lions will not fear the Sharks,” he says. “Not under a coach as good and as respected as Johan Ackermann. He plays a big role there. He is a great person and the players look up to him. When the coach provides a happy environment, the players enjoy the game so much more and you will get so much more out of them.”
James warns that the Lions have a kicking weapon of their own in flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff, and the Sharks cannot allow him free reign.
“The Sharks pack has to make it hard for the Lions half-backs to operate,” he says. “The Sharks pack is strong but the Lions forwards are better than most and that means a huge battle for go-forward ball. Whoever wins that will probably win the game.” - The Star