From Greytown to Dubai: Steve Botha on nurturing rugby talent in UAE

2013-06-21 00:00

A RUGBY man whose life has been based for the most part in Pietermaritzburg and the KZN midlands returned to the KwaZulu-Natal capital for a holiday recently and spoke to The Witness about the new chapter in his coaching career.

“I have been manager of the Sharks UAE [United Arab Emirates] Rugby Academy for the past five months and live in Abu Dhabi, but also coach in Dubai and Al Ain,” said Steve Botha, an immediately recognisable name in local circles.

Botha, 46 next month, coached and played at the top PMB clubs and also spent seasons at Maritzburg College, St Charles College and DHS variously as first XV head coach, director and administrator of rugby.

Born and raised in Greytown, Botha’s new job description entails the coaching and development of young players with the aim of eventually filtering them into the UAE U19 team. “It was a tough start, as no players were recruited before I arrived.

I was fortunate that there were some youth tournaments and school games where I could do some recruiting.” It was also with the help of Wayne Masters, rugby manager at the UAE Rugby Federation, that Botha managed to recruit 55 players aged 13 to 18 years old in the three centres and the aim is to recruit more.

Botha, who spent his school years at Greytown and Estcourt, is eminently qualified in his chosen profession.

He has a host of impressive and varied coaching courses and certificates to his name, among them from the SA Rugby Union, the International Rugby Board (IRB) and a High Performance coaching certificate from Iranz (International Rugby Academy of New Zealand). An honours degree in sport science from Maties, taking the Midlands Rugby Academy from 15 players to 62 players in four years, also stood him in good stead for the UAE challenge. As a player, Botha’s career was as distinguished and varied. Primarily a scrumhalf, the combative halfback was a member of the Natal (now Sharks) squad from 1990 to1994 and also excelled in Blue Bulls and Italian rugby.

Botha loves playing golf when he gets the chance, and spending time with family and friends, but rugby has long been a pivotal part of his life — and his major coaching influences boil down to three men.

The “godfather” of SA rugby, the late Danie Craven, is one.

“Doc Craven’s knowledge of the game and his philosophy of coaching were inspiring, and he was ahead of his time. Andy Keast, he was a tough hard man, but a visionary with good position-specific knowledge.”

Another was former All Blacks coach Laurie Mains. “I spent two weeks with Laurie at the High Performance course at Iranz and appreciated his tactical approach and attention to detail, which most New Zealand coaches have.”

A highly organised man, it’s a busy day in the life of Steve Botha in the UAE. “When I go through to the office in Dubai, I leave at 7.30 am to be there by 9 am. All my planning is done in advance, but I may just revise on what has to be done for the day.

“ I catch up on all my admin and then leave for the venue by 3.30 pm to ensure I am all set up and ready for my training sessions, which start at 5 pm and finish at 7 pm. Then it’s the drive back home.”

Botha says the quality of top schools’ rugby is of a decent standard and would be competitive against the better schools in KZN. “Some of the youth teams are also of a decent standard.

“I coach a club side, the Abu Dhabi Saracens, who are only two years old, and we qualified for the premier division this year.”

A goal is to qualify for the Gulf Top Six, which was not achieved this year, as only the top four UAE teams plus Doha and Bahrain make the grade.

When Botha arrived in January at the start of the Gulf Conference, the matches on a home and away basis were against the likes of Dubai Wasps, Muscat, Doha seconds and Kuwait.

“We ended second, losing by one point in the conference competition to Dubai Wasps.”

Botha loves passing on what he has learnt to players, loves seeing them improve, grow to love and enjoy the game like he does.

Let’s hope the wheel will turn and midlands rugby will come to benefit from his knowledge again someday.

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