There is a story told of Bakkies Botha playing against the Lions in the Vodacom Super 14 or the Absa Currie Cup a few seasons back. As the game approached the 60th minute, one of the Lions decided to chirp Botha: “Hey Bakkies, don’t you normally get replaced around about now? Isn’t it time for you to take a rest?”
Botha simply smiled: “The coach likes me to play 80 minutes against the smaller teams.”
Kevin McCallum writes for IOL that Botha has been included to play in a second-string Bulls team against the Stormers in the final round of the Super 14 this weekend as the defending champions seek to give their players a break before they play their semifinal at Orlando Stadium. He would have been interested to read a missive from across the water in Australia that suggested that he was part of a sinister plot to deny the Australians and New Zealanders a home semifinal.
At 4.52am on Tuesday morning, the whining began nine time zones away. An email arrived in inboxes from the Sydney Morning Herald with the headline: “Blow to Waratahs as Bulls set to rest stars in South African stitch-up.”
The stitch-up? Well, having already secured for themselves the number one spot in the league, the Bulls are considering giving Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez, Gurthro Steenkamp et al a rest ahead of the semifinal. Not an entirely unreasonable move, you might say. Not across the water, however.
“It reeks of a South African stitch-up in the Super 14,” reads the report. “With one round to go, the integrity of rugby’s premier provincial competition could be compromised with tournament leaders, the Bulls, set to field a second-string team against the Stormers in the top-of-the-table clash in Cape Town.”
Hold on there. “Integrity”? “Compromised”? Are they accusing the Bulls of cheating? Are they suggesting the Bulls would chuck a game just so the Stormers could also play a semifinal at home? Have they not been watching South African rugby for the last, oh, 100 years and more? Apparently not.
“The Stormers need only to beat the Bulls to secure a home semifinal, denying the NSW Waratahs a chance of hosting the financially lucrative game,” the Herald’s rugby writers continue.
“The Waratahs, currently third on the ladder with 38 points and one point behind the Stormers, will get to play a semifinal at the Sydney Football Stadium if they beat the Hurricanes on Friday night and the Stormers lose to the Bulls. Such a game could boost the Waratahs’s coffers by several hundred thousand dollars.”
Ah, so it’s about money then. The Bulls aren’t fielding Botha and their reserves just to make sure their new best friends from Cape Town “yes, that even includes you Bryan Habana” don’t have to get on a jet plane for Sydney or Christchurch, but to steal money from the Waratahs, to impoverish the union and the players and forcing the children of the players to have to beg on street corners to make ends meet.
“The odds of the Stormers hosting a semifinal in Cape Town will be shortened if the Bulls field a weakened team. Such a result would be unfair to teams such as the Waratahs and the Crusaders from Christchurch who are both seeking a home semifinal and have both lost to full-strength Bulls teams this season.”
Good heavens. I…I…I’m shock. This can’t be. South Africans are being unfair to Australians and them Kiwi fellas. They’re going to lose and lose on purpose. All the South African teams are in on it.
The Lions have been chucking games all season to give the rest of the competition a sense of over-confidence; the Cheetahs only started playing well at the end after they had done their job of losing loads; and as for the Sharks, well… er, oh yeah, the Sharks.
They almost beat the Bulls at Loftus, but then faded in the Highveld air. Then they went and beat the Stormers by mistake in Durban last week. Didn’t the Sharks read the script? Didn’t they get the memo?
Did no one see Mark Lawrence trying to give the Stormers the match, starting at the toss of the coin? Schalk Burger called, John Smit won and Lawrence still asked Burger what he wanted to do. Burger laughed and said “Barney” had won, and Smit said they would “bowl or bat” first as he had won. Then they laughed, smiled and shook hands, and then the Sharks accidentally won. What a fix, or non fix.
On the Herald website 4305 people had voted on the question: “Should the Bulls be allowed to rest their players against the Stormers?” Fifty-one percent said “yes”, 49 percent said “no”.
In the comments section, some Waratahs fans spat the dummy and complained, but others were, unlike the story, a little bit more understanding with Damo from Brisbane, a Reds fan no doubt, suggest that “maybe the Waratahs should have won some more games earlier so they didn’t put themselves in that position”.