The Ultimate Springbok World Cup Final XV: Bruising Bakkies is the best
AS part of The Glory of '95 series, three of IOL Sport's rugby writers decided to pick their ultimate Springbok World Cup Final XV. Today we look at the No 4 jersey.
Candidates: Kobus Wiese (1995), Bakkies Botha (2007) Eben Etzebeth (2019)
Jacques van der Westhuyzen
Oh my, what another tough choice to have to make!
All three these men fulfilled their roles in the Bok team perfectly; that of the enforcer. And all three were massive for the Boks in the three World Cup wins.
There have been many other good No 4 locks in Springbok rugby since readmission, but these are certainly the three one thinks about when reflecting back over the last 28 years.
Kobus Wiese only played 18 Tests between 1993 and 1996, while Bakkies Botha wore the Bok jumper 85 times between 2002 and 2014 and formed a formidable second-row pairing with Victor Matfield.
More recently Eben Etzebeth has just about made the No 4 jersey his own, also donning it 85 times. And, he is just 28 years old, and has captained the Boks and played at two World Cups, winning one.
For me this pick is a shoot-out between Botha and Etzebeth. And having to pick one above the other isn’t easy. Both stood out as dominant, forceful players in the tight-five; being powerful scrummagers, strong ball-carriers and no-nonsense tacklers. They also never shied away from the physical stuff and in fact, seemed to enjoy it.
And then there’s the other matter of actually having to win front-of-the-lineout-ball - one of the No 4 lock’s primary jobs - and both stood out in this department as being “bankers”.
Separating them is virtually impossible and as my colleague Mike Greenaway said in an earlier selection in this feature, today it will be one of them, but tomorrow it could be the other. Today I’m going for Etzebeth - a classic, powerful, abrasive and skilful No 4 lock.
Jacques’ choice: Eben Etzebeth
Kobus Wiese and Eben Etzebeth are serious contenders in this position, as they were both enforcers of the highest order.
But Bakkies Botha was a man feared by many on the rugby field, although he was as friendly off it as he was confrontational on it.
He had the most unlikely names, given what role he played on the pitch – John Philip Botha – and was a great character too, often speaking about himself in the third person.
The nickname ‘Bakkies’ suited him to a tee, and he showed what was to come in his very first Test when he received a yellow card for putting his knee into a French opponent in Marseille in 2002.
Botha got stuck in from the start, and forced his way into the 2003 Rugby World Cup squad, where he was paired with Victor Matfield in the second row.
Although the Boks came up short against the All Blacks in the quarter-final, Botha scored his first Test try against Uruguay.
Of course, his crowing glory came in the 2007 tournament, when he played a critical role alongside Matfield in helping the Boks to the title.
Botha was an intimidating presence – cleaning out rucks at will, putting in big hits, and making sure that the Boks won the physical battle. He was also a powerful ball-carrier and had surprising speed in his younger days for such a big man, often making cover tackles, while adding significant weight in the scrums.
He admitted several times that he likes playing “on the edge”, where he may push someone off the ball or put in a massive tackle after a ball was passed, but rather than it being a problem, that is what actually made him the hard man that he is.
He was certainly missed in the fateful 2011 quarter-final against Australia, where a foot injury in training ruled him out.
Botha didn’t make it to the 2015 tournament for a final swansong, calling time on his Bok career following the emergence of Etzebeth and other young locks.
Ashfak’s Choice: Bakkies Botha
These are three of the hardest men ever to play for South Africa. Enforcers one and all, and each is completely worthy of a place in an ultimate World Cup XV.
In 1995, Wiese was literally and figuratively colossal. A mountain of a man at 2m tall and 128 Kgs, he was a safe option at the front of the lineout and threw his weight around with great effect in the loose. He was huge in the final and who will forget his bear hug of referee Derek Bevan at the final whistle?
Bakkies and Eben are cut from the same mean cloth. They take absolutely no nonsense and dish plenty of it out. In the 2007 final, Bakkies was 28 years of age and at his menacing best. His partnership in the second row with his Bulls buddy Victor Matfield was at the very heart of a powerful Springbok engine room. At 2.01m and 120 kgs, Bakkies was impressively athletic for his size.
Etzebeth, at 2.03m and 117kgs, is the tallest and leanest of the three but not necessarily the meanest — there are no shrinking violets in this trio. He had an awesome game against England in last year’s final.
At a push I am going to narrow this choice down to Bakkies vs Eben, and with a gun to my head I am going to pick Bakkies.
Mike’s choice: Bakkies Botha