Man mountain Mouritz makes most of last chance
England rugby star Mouritz Botha should have no problem standing out from the Front Street crowd when he and his Saracens’ team-mates frequent Bermuda’s most popular watering holes this week.
Standing at six foot six inches and sporting a mop of dishevelled blond hair, Botha certainly doesn’t look like your average swizzle-drinking, flowery-shirt wearing Island tourist.
And while his towering frame fits the mould of a typical lock forward, Botha’s colourful journey to the pinnacle of his profession even in rugby terms is anything but conventional.
Born in Vryheid, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, Botha moved to England at 22 where he grafted as a carpet cleaner while playing part-time for lowly Bedford Athletic.
From Athletic, Botha joined then National League One side Bedford Blues before being picked up by Aviva Premiership super power Saracens at the relatively late age of 27.
Botha admits those tough times, when he often wondered whether his opportunity had past him by, have made his current success all the more sweet.
“I had a very different way into rugby,” Botha told
The Royal Gazette, “but the main thing was I kept believing that I would get to where I wanted to be and I kept working really hard.
“It’s not the normal way people come through, like in the academies and stuff like that, and there were definitely times when I felt I was getting too old. I didn’t think Premiership clubs would look at a guy who is 27, 28, 29 ... would they think ‘why hasn’t he played before?’
“Yes, there were times I worried I wouldn’t get a chance but the drive to play professionally and my love for rugby kept me going, and luckily I got a break at Saracens.”
The 31-year-old, who lines up for Saracens against a Bermuda International Select XV at the National Sports Centre on Friday, hopes the club’s younger players learn from his turbulent route to the top.
“I speak to the people at Saracens who are involved in player development because it’s important players who come through the youth academy know how lucky they are and appreciate it,” he said.
“There are a lot of them who don’t appreciate it that much and only when it’s gone will they realise how lucky they were and that maybe they should have been more grateful at the time.
“Hopefully (the younger players) can learn from my experiences and appreciate their opportunities a bit more.”
Although he was born in South Africa, Botha qualifies for England through residency and made his debut for the national side against Wales in 2011.
And even though he still speaks in a heavy South African accent, Botha insists he feels equally as proud as any of his team-mates when singing the national anthem prior to battle.
“I’ve lived in England for nine years; it wasn’t a sudden transformation for me,” he said. “In 2007 I cheered the screen off at the Rugby World Cup, and you get to a stage when you develop a fondness and a love for the country.
“When I realised I might have a chance to someday represent England that really snowballed and got me more patriotic.
“When you stand out there and sing the national anthem you get quite emotional and I’m really pleased and proud to have done that.”
Botha describes Bermuda as ‘a little piece of heaven’ and hopes Saracens’ Fundraising Week can help raise rugby’s profile on the Island.
Saracens will visit a number of schools, run coaching workshops and engage in fundraising activities while on tour.
“Bermuda is a brilliant place, I came over last July for a holiday and it’s a little piece of heaven it’s almost like a well-kept secret,” he said.
“I spoke to a guy who works at the Crystal Caves and he was telling me how school rugby is improving and that the league is developing.
“For those kids interested in rugby (the Saracens tour) is a real opportunity for them to meet some international players and see them in action.”
He added: “I’m looking forward to spending some time with my wife and I’m sure when the boys get here we’ll be having a few drinks on Front Street.
“In the build-up (to Friday’s game) it will be quite lighthearted and stuff, but once we get out there, and after the first hit it will be all guns blazing.”
Saracens, including England internationals Charlie Hodgson and Chris Ashton, take on the Select XV, featuring ex-Ireland skipper Geordan Murphy and several Bermuda, USA and Canadian national team players, at 6.30pm.
There will be a happy hour at the North Field for spectators from 5-6pm.