Name: Mouritz Botha
Age: 29 (29 January 1982)
Born: Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal, SA
I’m pinching myself having made my debut for the Saxons in the Churchill Cup and been picked in England’s preliminary 45-man squad for the World Cup. Just five years ago I was playing part-time rugby for Bedford Athletic!
It was inevitable that I would give the game a go as my dad was a primary-school teacher and a rugby coach in Natal. I’ve loved it ever since I first started. It’s full on in South Africa because you play full-contact rugby from the age of six. I played hooker until I was 16, with one game on the wing.
A big influence on my career was my grandfather, Jan Teubes. He was a hooker so that’s what led me into the middle of the front row. He was a big rugby organiser in the area he lived and was a huge Springboks fan, following them around the world on various tours.
I started growing a lot at 16 so it was inevitable that I would move into one of the back-five positions. I moved to No 8 for a season before playing lock.
I struggled to break into representative rugby, even though I was playing for my school’s first team (U18). It was very hard to make it into the provincial side in Boland if you were at a small school like mine. My goals changed when I was told I’d never make it as a rugby player in South Africa. At 105kg (16st 7lb) I was told I was too light to succeed in the second row at the Stormers, so I had to find a full-time job.
I have a passion for rugby, though, so I set about trying to find a club in a new country. I felt I needed to be in English rugby to realise my ambitions.
I sent my CV to as many clubs in England as I could find on the internet. I was thinking I could get into a side at National Two level and sent it to clubs like Barking. The majority didn’t even reply.
Out of the blue my phone went and I found a guy with a heavy Irish accent on the other end of the line offering me a chance with Bedford Athletic. It turned out to be their director of rugby Ed Axon. I couldn’t understand all of what he was saying but I understood that he was offering me flights, accommodation and a job. I had no messages from any other clubs, so I jumped at the chance.
The links Bedford Athletic had with Bedford Blues would give me the chance to progress, so it seemed the perfect place to go. I worked there as an office assistant, making coffee and organising the paperwork.
My own worst enemy is what my coach at Bedford Athletic, Paul Saffy, accused me of being while in the pub one day. He said I could achieve so much if I stopped messing about. He woke me up to my potential and I knuckled down. This
led to my first contract with Bedford Blues, where I combined my rugby with working in asbestos removal.
A big motivator is my wife, Natasha. When I got married I wanted to be successful as a husband and provider as well as a rugby player, so I worked harder at my work and training. My hard work paid off when an agent contacted me via Facebook to say that Saracens were looking for a second-row.
Intimidated is how I felt when I turned up for the Saracens interview. They asked me why I wanted to play for them and I said, ‘This is the biggest day of my life. It’s my goal and dream to play for a club like Saracens. I’d do anything to achieve it.’
I was embarrassed after the interview. Chief executive Edward Griffiths called as I was leaving the car park to say they were giving me a contract. I started celebrating in my car, then saw Edward looking down at me from the office. Cue a red face! The last two years with Sarries have been amazing.
The target now must be to get a place on that plane to New Zealand for the World Cup – it would be a dream come true.
My story is of making it with hard work and determination, so anyone can do the same.
DID YOU KNOW?
While at Bedford, Mouritz ‘Mo’ Botha got the chance to show he could play at a higher level when he was picked in the East Midlands side to play in the traditional Mobbs Memorial match against the Barbarians in 2009.
This article appeared in the August 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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