When Naas Botha hung up his international boots in 1992 it was the final act of one of the greatest Springboks of all time. Botha, with his mop of blond hair and good looks, was South African rugby's first media "superstar", with cameras flashing wherever the "Golden Boy" went. From the time he made his international debut as a 22-year-old against South America in 1980, most judges and commentators were unanimous that Naas Botha was destined for greatness. Botha indeed proved to be a player of pure genius and the greatest points-scoring phenomenon South African rugby had ever known, although such was his ability with the boot that few people fully appreciated his exceptional range of skills. He had remarkable speed, great distribution skills and a brilliant tactical brain - but such was his kicking talent that everything else paled in comparison. His immense talent was delivered in such a cool and calculated manner that his self-belief and composure were sometimes mistaken for arrogance. He was not the strongest of defenders, but in the areas in which he excelled, he was peerless.
Botha first played for Northern Transvaal as a 19 year old in 1977, and played his final game for them in 1995. During that period, the Blue Bulls won the Currie Cup six times, in large part due to his boot. He was chosen as captain of Northerns in 1980 at the age of 22, over many other more senior players, and later that season became the youngest captain ever to lift the Currie Cup. He was also selected for the Springbok team in the same year and played two tests against South America before being selected to face the British Lions. All South Africans eagerly awaited the 1980 Lions tour as an opportunity to restore pride after the Springbok's mauling by the Lions of 1974. In the series, Botha proved to be a match-winner and was catapulted to international rugby stardom. The British press nicknamed him "Nasty Booter" after he won the third test in Port Elizabeth with a tricky touchline conversion in wet, windy conditions to give the Springboks a 12 - 10 victory. The response he got from the crowd after the match was incredible. Botha always prepared for games with meticulous efficiency. Whether he was punting, place-kicking or drop-kicking, he stood in a class of his own and his ability to win close matches with a long-range penalty kick or snap drop-goal was so common that it simply became referred to as "Naas Magic".
To sustain such composure and superiority under the physical intimidation of International and Currie Cup rugby, and the ever-increasing expectations of the South African rugby public, was quite remarkable. His consistent displays of excellence came to be almost taken for granted. Botha would practise his kicking incessantly for many hours each day and his intensity and quest for perfection was renowned. Botha scored 20 points when South Africa beat New Zealand 24-12 in Wellington in 1981, and landed a total 312 points in 28 Tests (including 18 drop goals) despite South Africa's isolation from international competition during the latter years of apartheid depriving him of many productive years on the test playing field. He was also a highly successful captain, leading Northern Transvaal 128 times in 179 appearances and captaining the Springboks to victory in the series against the rebel New Zealand Cavaliers in 1986, and upon their return to official test competition in 1992. At the height of his rugby career in 1983, Botha went to the USA to try his hand at American football with the Dallas Cowboys and in 1987 he moved to the Italian club Rugby Rovigo, where he helped them win two National Championships.
Playing for the World XV at the IRB Centenary Match at Twickenham in 1986, Naas showed that he was far more than a kicking machine. In as exciting a display of running as the crowd had seen at Twickenham for many years, Botha demonstrated a bewildering array of audacious running and changes of pace as he created space for his team-mates. Botha's career lasted long enough for him to see South Africa readmitted to the international rugby fold in 1992 and, although past his best by then, he captained the Springboks in home tests against Australia and New Zealand. He then toured France and England before bowing out of international rugby aged 34. The 'SA Rugby Player of the Year' was introduced in 1970 and has been won by some of the game's greats over the past years. Only three players have won the award more than once. Gerald Bosch and Uli Schmidt both won it twice. Naas Botha won the award four times, in 1979, 1981, 1985 and 1987. In 2005 he was inducted into the International Rugby Board Hall of Fame, cementing his status as one of rugby's all time greats. (Malcolm Finch)