A household name now but few knew much about Botia when he joined La Rochelle nearly a decade ago
Levani Botia travelled halfway across the planet to take up a short-term contract with an ambitious second-tier French club nine years ago. At the time he was relatively unknown.
It would be easy to say the rest is history for the Fiji international, now a cult hero at the double Champions Cup-winning club, which is now regarded as one of the elite sides in France. But, after he was selected for a third World Cup, here are 10 things you should know about the unassuming ‘Demolition Man’.
Related: Fiji Rugby World Cup squad announced
Ten things you need to know about Levani Botia
1. Levani Botia Veivuke was born in Suva, Fiji, on March 14, 1989.
2. Fans of French club side La Rochelle know him as La Machine, or Demolition Man – but his team-mates simply call him Leps. It is short for Levani, which is correctly pronounced Lepani.
3. He played amateur rugby for Namosi’s in the Fiji National Championship, while working as a prison guard. He also played sevens with the Wardens Sevens team, where he was spotted by the legendary Waisale Serevi.
4. Botia was selected for the national sevens squad for the 2011 Pacific Games, where Fiji won silver. He also played World Rugby Sevens in 2011 and 2012, and captained his country at the 2013 Sevens World Cup. His wife learned of his sevens call-up via the TV news.
5. He won his first full men’s international cap on November 9, 2013, when Fiji played Portugal. He lined-up for the Flying Fijians in the 2015 and 2019 Rugby World Cups. He has been named in the 33-strong squad for France 2023, where – after two tournaments in the centres – he has been selected primarily as a back row.
6. Botia signed his first professional contract for French side La Rochelle, then in the second-tier ProD2, in March 2014, on a short-term ‘medical joker’ contract; as cover to the end of the season for Argentina-born Italian international centre Gonzalo Canale.
7. Within a month, the club offered him a full contract for an additional season. As the 2013-14 season drew to a close he scored twice in the ProD2 play-off semi-finals against Pau, to help La Rochelle to promotion. He has remained at Stade Marcel Deflandre ever since.
8. As well as helping guide La Rochelle to promotion in 2014, Botia has won two Champions Cups, and has two Top 14 finalists’ and a Challenge Cup finalists’ medal.
9. Botia and team-mate Uini Atonio are the only members of La Rochelle’s 2014 promotion-winning squad to still play for the club.
10. He became the first player to receive a red card in a Champions Cup final, for a high tackle on Toulouse’s Maxime Medard in the 2021 showpiece. It was his second and, to date, last red card, and came six years after his first.
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