James Botham.

Botham family’s setbacks are stepping stones

LIAM BOTHAM COLUMN – IRC FRIDAYS

I am not one for sour grapes. Things are what they are, events invariably occur for good reasons and I’ve always agreed with the phrase, ‘things happen at precisely the time they should be happening!’ This, I guess, will have to offer a measure of consolation to my family and I, in a week during which the Wales Touring Squad to South Africa was announced and our boy James’ name was not on the list.

We were shocked, to put it mildly. To our family, and I’d venture to say to most fans of Welsh rugby or with knowledge of the game, Jimbo’s inclusion for this tour appeared to be a formality. He was selected for the squad in 2020 and had seven caps to his credit before suffering a shoulder injury. He returned better and stronger than ever, was the outstanding player for the Cardiff Blues side this season and by far the club’s best player in their URC games contested in South Africa. He is just 24 and yes, still has a lot to learn, but is a proven young talent.

His exclusion boggles my mind. I don’t get it. I just don’t! But I am sure Sam Simmonds and his family have been through what we are feeling now.

“The tour is the first step and the last step if you like,” Wales head coach Wayne Pivac commented. “It is probably the last step for a few players to show they can compete on a regular basis at this level. It’s probably the start of (when) we are not going to be tinkering too much with selection. We will be looking to play our strongest side now through to the World Cup, and we make no apologies for that.”

Well, what do you know? Decisions cast in stone 14 months ahead of the 2023 World Cup? Is this truly the best squad Pivac could have picked? I reckon there are a few players who can consider themselves very lucky to have been included.

Cardiff coach Dai Young, also taken aback, told the BBC that Jimbo and Seb Davies were “unfortunate” not to have been selected.

Said Young: “There are very competitive positions right across the squad, but the two I think that have probably got a real case to be really disappointed would be Seb (Davies) and Jimbo (Botham),” he added.

“I think Jimbo has played really well. He has played right across the back row for us, at six, eight and seven. He’s been consistent in his performances, good with both sides of the ball. I’m disappointed for him and I’m sure he’s going to be disappointed as well.”

The Welsh coaching team obviously thinks differently and it was their prerogative to leave Jimbo at home for this tour. My dad got into the England Cricket Squad at least two years after he was good enough and ready for inclusion, and I had selection problems when I was at the top of my game with Rob Andrew. But that’s another story!

Jimbo was angry, yes, and he was frustrated, as every professional player wants to play for their country. But he has already got over it and has been talking to his Manager Derwyn Jones about what he has to improve on, concentrating on having a good rest, letting his injuries settle and having a really strong pre-season so he can come back firing on all cylinders to prove a serious point. I think Mr Pivac (if he is still the coach) will be eating his words and will be making a few changes to the Welsh Squad before the World Cup. I also believe Cardiff will turn things around for next season and will be the best Welsh Region. If you like a little wager, this might be one to look at!

On a different matter. I’ve been asked why Jimbo does not play in England or France to better his game, as Zac Mercer has done in one season! But this is a Catch-22, because he is not allowed to leave Wales until he has 60 caps for the National Squad or will simply not be picked. All I can say is that I agree with Rassie Erasmus on this discussion, and that the SA players have benefitted playing in the English and French leagues.  – IRC.

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