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THAT head butt...

THAT head butt...

BOOK EXTRACT: It was 2014 and South Africa were facing New Zealand at the Westpac Trust Stadium in Wellington…


Twenty-nine seconds into the game Jimmy Cowan the NZ scrum half had a box kick charged down by one John Philip Botha better known to all the rest of the rugby world as “Bakkies”.

He was just inside the SA half and both men turned to chase after the ball…BUT…Cowan decided to cheat and pull Bakkies shirt to slow him down so that he could reach the ball first.


The big Springbok waved his arms trying to protest the foul play but the referee (and assistants) chose to ignore it.

Both men continued to chase the ball and the All Black won the foot race, recovered the ball and deftly spun it out to a teammate falling to the ground in doing so. Bakkies also fell to the ground just behind him and as he landed his head went straight into the back of Cowans.

There was no immediate sanction but his punishment was meted out later by a citing tribunal who would deem it fit to ban him from the game for nine weeks ensuring he would miss the rest of the Tri-Nations Tournament.


Graham Henry, New Zealand’s head coach of the time thought the ban wasn’t severe enough – “He’s got a history. He’s probably lucky he didn’t get more than nine weeks.”

Bakkies did express remorse at the time and seemed to be quite contrite about it. “I sincerely regret the incident. I have let my team, my country and family down and I have done an injustice to the Springbok jersey and what it stands for.”

But when asked about the incident by French newspaper Midi Olympique in 2020 the hardest man of South African rugby in his day had a completely different reaction.

“No, not a single second. And if I were to relive this situation, I would do the exact same thing,” he said.


“That day in Auckland I was battling with Cowan following a kick. I was faster than him. I had passed him and he pulled me by the shirt to slow me down. When I caught up with him ten metres away, I made him understand that I hadn’t liked it… I hate injustice.”

Botha concluded: “It’s not something I’m proud of. I kind of dropped the Springboks that day. And Jimmy Cowan won the mini-battle. But I would react in exactly the same way today… it’s still the fault of the No9. They talk too much and know better than anyone how to get you out of the game.”

Botha readily admits that he reacted stupidly against Cowan. “He did pull me back, but I lost it that day and shouldn’t have.”

He continues by explaining that the rivalry between the All Blacks and the Springboks was something unique and was always acute.

“They were always the hardest opponents we faced and there was no better player than Richie McCaw that I came up against. My role was clear when playing against them: make the breakdown brutal.”

“If McCaw or any of the New Zealand boys had to take a moment to look out for me, then I knew I was winning. When I played them, I always wanted them to know I was coming for them, and the biggest compliment I ever received was from (South Africa coach) Jake White, who said he could see they had fear in their eyes during the game.”

This incident with Cowan would serve to solidify his reputation as one of the bogeymen of world rugby but after serving the nine week ban, Bakkies would go on to represent his country another 17 times before he decided to retire bringing his total number of caps for South Africa to 85.

Source: Hard Men of Rugby, by Luke Upton

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