Botham dynasty shares pride and insights as James prepares for Wales debut

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Lord Botham, James Botham and Liam Botham
Lord Botham (left) and son Liam (right) were at St Helen’s in Swansea when James (centre) made his Wales Under-18 debut in 2016
Venue: Parc y Scarlets Date: Sat, 21 Nov Kick-off: 17:15 GMT
Coverage: Live text and BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Radio 5 Live commentary on the BBC Sport website and app; live on S4C

Cardiff Blues flanker James Botham will become one of three new Wales rugby caps on Saturday when he lines up in the Autumn Nations Cup against Georgia.

The 22-year-old comes from good sporting stock. His grandfather is cricket legend Lord Botham while his father is former Cardiff wing Liam.

In fact, James is often referred to as “grandson of” but is now forging his own international career.

Born in Cardiff, James Botham has always seen himself as a passionate Welshman having come through the nation’s under-18s and under-20s. Now he is moving up to the senior stage.

BBC Sport Wales has spoken to a proud father and grandfather about the rapid rise of the latest member of the Botham sporting dynasty.

The pair explain in their own words what watching James winning his first cap for Wales will mean to them.

Ian Botham
Ian Botham’s impact on the 1981 England-Australia series was so great that it became known as ‘Botham’s Ashes’

England cricket legend Ian Botham, 63 – now Lord Botham – is regarded as one of Britain’s finest sportsmen. He enjoyed a glittering career playing 102 Tests and 116 one-day internationals for England, including Ashes series wins and a World Cup final in 1992. He also found time to play league football for Scunthorpe United.

“It came as a pleasant surprise when it was announced Jimbo was in the Wales squad. It is nice to see young players playing well, getting a chance to express themselves on the biggest stage.

“It should be a great opportunity. He has been playing very well for Cardiff and we have watched every game. He is cock-a-hoop, as you could imagine.

“It is so much different now in rugby and cricket. When I got first called up to England I had to listen to the radio at midday as they announced the team for the following Thursday.

“It is much better now, because there were almost a few car accidents with players travelling on motorways to Sunday League games and listening to hear if they had been picked for England!

“He has had time to mix and integrate with the players and the squad. He knows most of the team because he will have played with the team.

“It will be a step in the right direction, but it’s a step not a leap.

“It has always been Wales, 100%. He has never looked anywhere else. He used to get stick at school with people saying things, but he always said: ‘I want to play for Wales, I don’t want to play for England. I was born in Wales, I played under-18s and 20s’.

Lord Botham plays for Scunthorpe against Wigan in March 1980
Lord Botham made 17 appearances for Yeovil before featuring in 11 games as a centre-half for Scunthorpe

“As far as he is concerned he is a Welsh player. I remember when he was involved with Wales Under-18s and he was in school in the north-west of England in Cumbria and we were running him down one way or another for games and training.

“This is just progress for him and he keeps on climbing up the ladder. He will wear that red jersey, the one which was plastered on his bedroom wall. He is so excited and Saturday is just the start.

“He has a nice mix to learn from with Alun Wyn Jones, the most-capped player in international history. He will learn and absorb because he is a quick learner.

“We have watched him all the way from schools, as we have all the grandchildren, and when Liam was playing. We are a family and we have enjoyed each other’s success.

“It gets better and better the older I get and the younger these guys are in the family. It’s fantastic.

“Nothing will ever give me more pride than when the family does well. Liam went to the England squad on tour to South Africa (in 2000) and probably would have played in the last Test if he had not gone down with a bug.

“There was enormous disappointment when he did not get on that field. But we had the uplift of when he was officially picked and that’s the ups and downs of sport.

James Botham takes on England Under-20s in 2017
James Botham takes on England U20s’ Ben Earl at the 2017 Junior World Championship

“I will be absolutely delighted when he [James] gets that Wales cap. I have been on the wagon for four weeks and my next drink was going to be Christmas Day. But you never know, I might sneak one on Saturday.

“I have always had a bigger buzz from watching the immediate family do well. As grandparents we are so proud.

“We might not be able to be there, but it will still be a fantastic feeling. If I was in Outer Mongolia I would find some way of watching him. We just have to live in the times we are in at the moment.

“It has always been rugby for Jimbo. I went to a school that played football. I played two games of rugby in my life after a new Welsh PE master came into the school and played one term of rugby. We had a game where I was sent off after 15 minutes for “misinterpretation of the rules”.

“I have always enjoyed watching the rugby and remember the 1980 Grand Slam under (former England captain) Bill Beaumont. I admire the guys and the way they treat the referee. That’s something the football guys could learn from.

“I like the physicality, skills and determination and take my hat off to rugby players.

“I have my own love affair with Welsh rugby. You go back to the playing side of things with Jiffy [ex-Wales fly-half Jonathan Davies]. I have been good mates with him for a very long time.

“Then there is Max Boyce and I always get updates on how Glynneath RFC are doing. Gareth Edwards takes me fishing and we play golf.

“I have a lot of friends in Wales and we have done some walks there with the hospitals, so I have a strong affiliation with Wales.

“When England play Wales there will be no problems for me.

“It will be: ‘Come on Jimbo.”

Liam Botham (right) and Lord Botham (centre) and Max Boyce (left) watching James play for Wales Under-18s against Italy in 2016
Liam Botham (right) and Lord Botham (centre) and Max Boyce (left) watching James play for Wales Under-18s against Italy in 2016

Liam Botham, 43, is a former Cardiff RFC wing who scored 42 tries in 72 games between 1997 and 2000 at the Arms Park. He also played rugby for England A and toured South Africa and narrowly missed out on an England cap. He played rugby league for Leeds Rhinos, having started his sporting career as a cricketer with Hampshire.

“His name is James, his nickname in the family is Jimbo, it seems a Welsh thing he is called Jim. We are hugely proud of him. He has had some injury worries in the last few years, has come through that and has shown the potential he has got.

“He is nowhere near the finished article, but he has the bit between his teeth. He has got some very good people around him at Cardiff Blues, they have shown some support and we are starting to see the dividends.

“I have never doubted he has the attributes with the speed, agility and physicality, and a back-row position is something you need to play to get used to.

“Jimbo and Shane Lewis-Hughes have come together through the under-18s and 20s and will build a fantastic partnership for Cardiff and hopefully for Wales.

“That back-row is probably one of the strongest positions in Welsh rugby. The call-up has probably come a bit earlier than we expected, but it was not a surprise.

“It has always been Wales for him. I am not on any form of social media myself but I was reading an article in the Times and saw some of the comments [questioning this].

“Jimbo has never thought of himself as anything but Welsh. He was born there while I was playing at Cardiff and his earliest memories are as a two or three-year-old kicking that ball around the Arms Park at the end of games.

James Botham Wales training
James Botham was called up to train with Wales before being officially called into the squad

“His bedroom had to be in the Welsh colours. He never had a doubt, he never looked elsewhere. He played all the junior levels with Wales. James has only ever wanted to be 100% a Welsh player.

“When I was playing with Cardiff, Graham Henry sounded me out briefly about qualifying through residency for Wales. The approach came a bit out of the blue.

“Because I had been born in England and played for them at junior level and England cricket at that age, I saw myself as an Englishman with respect to that. I was also on the verge of playing England A as well which I was picked for soon after.

“I had the best time of my professional career with Cardiff and I give a huge thanks to [then-owners] Peter and Stan Thomas, who gave me that opportunity.

“Peter also arranged for him to come down for trials because it was always going to be Jimbo’s passion to come back to Cardiff.

“I was privileged to be playing with the likes of Jonathan Humphreys, Martyn Williams and Neil Jenkins who are now on the Welsh coaching and management set-up. Jimbo will learn so much from them. It is a fantastic set-up. I think people need to give these guys time and he could not be in a better place.

“James has coped very well growing up because he has had the talent and there is no substitute for that.

“There is no pressure on him, although there is always the pressure of the name Botham, but he has done things his own way.

“When he gets his first cap, it will be up there with the best of everything. I enjoyed my sporting career, but never got a cap and everybody knows what my dad did.

“It will be a proud moment for everybody and top everything for me because I brought him into this world.

Liam Botham in action for Cardiff against Swansea in 1997
Liam Botham in action for Cardiff against Swansea in 1997

“There will be no prouder moment and I would think my dad would say it is up there as well for him.

“Current circumstances dictate we can’t be there and it might never be the same as being in that stadium listening to the thousands of people singing the anthem and creating that atmosphere. But it is a cap and it will be the proudest moment of his life – and mine.

“It has always been rugby for him, he went to two rugby-dominated schools so football was always second fiddle. He was a very talented sportsman with a low golf handicap.

“His cricket was always pretty good but it was always rugby. And Welsh rugby.”



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