|Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Date: Saturday, 27 February Kick-off: 16:45 GMT|
|Coverage: Live on BBC One, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Sounds, BBC iPlayer & Radio 5 Live, BBC Sport website and app, S4C|
He is the epitome of English sporting greatness.
Yet cricket legend Ian Botham – Lord Botham of Ravensworth OBE, to give him his full title – will be rooting for the Wales rugby team against England this weekend, when Wayne Pivac’s side aim for a Triple Crown in Cardiff.
His grandson James is in Wales’ Six Nations squad after winning his first cap last November, and there will be no divided loyalties when the sides line up at the Principality Stadium.
This is a man who had a series named after him – Botham’s Ashes – when England claimed a famous success against Australia in 1981.
This is the same man who helped celebrate England’s 1980 Grand Slam with his good friend Sir Bill Beaumont, who captained the red rose to the Five Nations title.
More than 40 years on, Botham is favouring the red shirt against the white jersey.
“You don’t have to ask me,” laughed Botham, when asked where his allegiance will lie this Saturday.
“I’m actually very happy to pull on that red shirt when they play England because obviously blood is thicker than water.
“I am a proud Englishman, but I go UK for that weekend. It is a UK match. I’m supporting Wales, of course I am.
“What grandfather wouldn’t? That’s the question I would put to people.
“And more importantly, I think England can be taken. I think Wales can take them at this moment in time because England don’t look a happy camp to me, looking from the outside in.”
Botham’s support for his grandson’s team will remain even if James does not make the 23-man Wales squad, which is a possibility even though he impressed as a replacement in the 25-24 victory against Scotland.
“I don’t know what they’re thinking, but I don’t think he’s done any harm to himself and I would suggest he’ll be pretty pleased with where he is at the moment,” added Botham.
“So whatever happens I want Jimbo to be part of a winning team, whether he’s on the field, on the bench or in the grandstand.”
Liam Botham, Ian’s son and James’ father, agrees.
“I’ll be singing the English national anthem and then supporting Wales. That’s just the way it is,” he said.
Liam, 43 scored 42 tries in 72 games between 1997 and 2000 for Cardiff and also played rugby for England A and toured South Africa, narrowly missing out on an England cap before playing rugby league for Leeds Rhinos.
But more importantly for Welsh rugby now, his son James was born in Cardiff. So the Botham sporting dynasty has developed to a third generation and the journey has switched from England to Wales.
Road to Wales
Ian and Liam are talking from their home base in north Yorkshire. Despite his grand title – which came when he was nominated for a life peerage in the 2020 political honours – the patriarch of the family, now 65, prefers to be known simply as Ian or Beefy, his long-time nickname.
Jimbo is how James is known by most the family, while in the Wales squad he is the Duke, as coined by Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones thanks to his grandfather’s House of Lords achievements.
The family home helped a young James forge his rugby talents. Rugby was always his first passion and his grandfather describes him running from point to point around the estate harnessing his fitness and talents.
His rise has been meteoric considering Botham only turned 23 this week and has only 20 professional games to his name for Cardiff Blues and Wales. Liam describes how his son’s bedroom was always decked out in red.
“He had the Welsh feathers, the rugby ball, so there’s never, ever been any doubt about where his heart was, he was always Welsh through and through,” said Liam.
“I’m just so proud of what he’s done, he’s a father’s dream. You can see him blossoming just being in that Welsh camp and there is huge potential for him going forward.”
The distance from Cardiff highlights the sacrifices James made to represent the country of his birth after the family left when he was young.
He departed Wales aged two after his father’s sporting career brought him back north. He made countless journeys from the north of England to link up with the Cardiff Blues academy and play for Wales Under-18s and Under-20s.
“I always remember Jimbo when he was old enough to think for himself, he actually said straight away ‘I’m not playing for England, I want to play for Wales’,” said Ian.
“I said: ‘Hang on mate, you’re jumping the gun a bit there’.
“He said: ‘No, if I get a chance, I’m going to play for Wales’ and he used to travel so far and I don’t know if people in Wales realise this.
“He would go from Sedbergh School up in Cumbria, on the border (with Scotland), and come all the way down for academy sessions and then travel back.
“It’s about a 500-mile round trip and he did that on many occasions – that’s how determined he was.
“He resisted all pressure to stay and play for England and I think he made a magnificent choice. It shows you his commitment.
“He set his heart on Wales for his playing career, he loves Cardiff, loves the team and atmosphere and is doing what he wants to do.”
All three generations of the family have forged professional sporting careers.
Liam managed to combine rugby and cricket as careers after a spell on the county circuit with Hampshire. Ian made 17 football appearances for Yeovil and played 11 games for Scunthorpe.
James gave up cricket in his mid to late teens, while Ian admitted his rugby career – under a Welsh master in school – lasted only one game, when he was given his marching orders for a slide tackle.
Following in the footsteps of one of the country’s most iconic sports stars is something first Liam and James now have had to cope with.
“I’ve followed it as any granddad would, you try and protect your children and your grandchildren from it to a degree,” said Botham.
“I saw one comment on an article talking about Jimbo which said ‘what do you have to do to play for Wales then, spend a few weeks here on holiday is it and you’re Welsh?’.
“This other guy immediately wrote back and blew him out of the water by pointing out Jimbo was born in Cardiff and played from the Wales Under-18s all the way through. I thought that was great.
“Personally it’s like water off a duck’s back. I really couldn’t care less, but it’s tougher for the younger ones coming through.
“I was lucky enough to have a great career, but I also have had the same buzz watching Liam and now Jimbo play.”
Liam added: “For Jimbo some people will always say he’s only there because of who he is.
“We’ve all had that so it doesn’t matter, obviously since dad, anybody in the family, it doesn’t matter what they do, it doesn’t have to be to do with sport it can be anything, any factor of life.
“With the generation gap it is probably is a little bit easier for Jimbo in that respect and he has handled it very well. He is his own man. Jimbo or James Botham. He’s not a Liam Botham or an Ian Botham.”
And Botham senior outlines the affinity his family have always felt with the land of his grandson.
“We’ve always had strong ties with Wales,” he said.
“I have friends down there like Stan Thomas, Peter Thomas, Max Boyce, Gareth Edwards and Jonathan Davies and many others.
“We also did the two walks to raise money for the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital of Wales, so the bond is always there.”
And it’s always rugby that has drawn the Bothams back.
“Let’s be fair, people talk about cricket in England, but it’s rugby in Wales, summer, winter, autumn, and spring,” he said.
“So you can see why Jimbo has always had such a passion for Wales. Long may it continue.”