Toulon refusal to release Botha bodes ill for Lions


On the face of it, any initiative that serves to keep the notoriously destructive South African lock forward Bakkies Botha off the international stage would prove popular in England and the Celtic nations, upon whom the World Cup winner has wreaked a good deal of havoc down the years.

But the latest row surrounding Botha – not of his own making, for once – has implications for next summer's Lions tour of Australia. The Springboks, short of second-row fire-power ahead of their meeting with the All Blacks in Dunedin this weekend because of Andries Bekker's loss of form and Eben Etzebeth's suspension for butting, wanted to reintroduce their renowned enforcer to the rigours of Test rugby as a stop-gap measure.

According to the rich and increasingly powerful French club Toulon, though, where Botha is playing alongside the likes of Jonny Wilkinson and Simon Shaw, this will not be happening.

"Bakkies will be wearing the Toulon jersey on Friday night against Montpellier, not the South African one against New Zealand on Saturday," pronounced Bernard Laporte, the former France coach who now runs the show down there on the Cote d'Azur.

This development underlined the fact that Laporte was deadly serious when he stated last week that none of his British legion, which also includes the Wales loose-head prop Gethin Jenkins and the exiled England flanker Steffon Armitage, would be released for the start of the Lions tour if Toulon were involved, as expected, in the play-off phase of the domestic Top 14 competition in late May and early June.

Talking of foreign imports, Leicester have lost the services of Craig Newby, the influential back-rower from New Zealand whose industry and craftsmanship played a big part in the Midlanders' operation over recent seasons. Newby, who has been forced into premature retirement by persistent knee problems, said yesterday he was interested in starting a fresh career in coaching.

Meanwhile, Gerrit-Jan van Velze, one of Northampton's major signings during the close season, is off limits after just two Premiership games. The South African No 8 was last night banned for a month by a Rugby Football Union disciplinary panel after admitting inflicting a tip-tackle on the Exeter half-back Will Chudley at Franklin's Gardens three days ago.

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