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The 30-something South African prop tipped for a Wales call up

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Ospreys boss Tony Booth has suggested that seasoned South African tighthead Tom Botha can be a 2023 Rugby World Cup selection bolter for Warren Gatland’s Wales. The 32-year-old prop made his professional game breakthrough with Western Province in the Vodacom Cup twelve years ago, going on to represent Eastern Province, Southern Kings and Cheetahs in the years that followed.

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It was 2018 when he decided to move to Europe, joining the Swansea-based Ospreys and quickly becoming a first-choice starter in their PRO14 team under Allen Clarke. He first became eligible for Wales selection in 2021 under the three-year residency rule, but Wayne Pivac didn’t take an interest at the time.

The subsequent change in the residency rules, which extended the qualifying period to five years, meant it won’t be until the end of the 2022/23 season that Botha will become eligible again for possible Wales selection, this time under Warren Gatland who has retaken the reins from the sacked Pivac.

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Now under the guidance of Booth at the Ospreys, Botha hasn’t started as many games as he did during his initial few years at the Welsh region due to the club’s current rotation policy. His stats across the past two-and-a-half seasons heading into this weekend’s European clash with Montpellier read 24 starts and 32 appearances as a sub.

However, with Gatland looking to shake things up with struggling Wales in a World Cup year, Ospreys boss Booth believes Botha can help to strengthen the Welsh scrum in France if the new national team coach follows up on the prop’s impressive club-level form.

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It was the last question at his weekly media Ospreys briefing when Booth was quizzed about the potential Test-level credentials of Botha for Wales and he didn’t play down his player’s chances of making the step-up if invited. Booth was asked: “Tom Botha becomes available to Wales next summer, how have you assessed his progress and do you see him as an option for Warren for the World Cup?”

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In reply, the regional coach said: “Well, you have seen in recent performances how important scrums are, for sure, and Tommy, without a doubt, is a specialist scrummager, so it depends on what you are looking for from the No3 shirt, for sure, and certain opposition you require more of that or less of that.

“His progress has been the fact that we have a legitimate rotation policy around props, you know. That’s not because we think it’s a nice thing to do or it’s to keep everybody happy – you have to be good enough to be in that rotation.

“So from that point of view, Tommy Botha has started games where he has always been seen as the backup guy and that says enough for me. If called upon he will give it his best and be ready because ultimately he is delivering on his part of the jigsaw. So from that point of view, why not?”

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