James Botham: ‘It has always been my dream to play for Wales’

1 week ago

James Botham Wales training
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

It has been quite the life-changing week for James Botham.

Last Sunday he was not in the Wales squad, and was preparing for a Cardiff Blues match on Monday. This Saturday he will win his first cap when he starts against Georgia.

“I was called on Sunday night to say I was in camp,” he said.

“Then they announced the team for the players and my name was on there. I was just looking at it thinking ‘this can’t be real!’, but it is.

“I was in shock. Sunday I got the call. I said ‘what about the game tomorrow?’. I was in bed, getting ready to go to sleep, and they said ‘that’s scrapped, you’re coming in’. It’s happened fast and I did not think this would be the case this week.

“I briefly came in for a couple of days before the Scotland game in the Six Nations. That was great getting to feel the vibe of it, and the boys were all great.

“I came in on Monday, trained that day and Tuesday, we had Wednesday off and then it was Thursday, Friday and game Saturday. It’s short and sharp but I’m looking forward to it.”

Botham’s family history is well known. England cricketing great Lord Botham is his grandfather and ex-England A rugby wing and professional cricketer Liam is his father.

“I rang my dad as I knew he’d have a go at me if I didn’t speak to him,” said Botham.

“Then I spoke to my granddad before my brother, mum and the rest of the family. I am gutted they can’t come obviously with the regulations at the moment. Everyone is in the same boat, so we will get on with it as best we can.

“The family have been great. It is a shame I won’t be able to see them on the day – maybe on Zoom – it’s just the norm at the moment, and there’s not much we can do about it. I’m sure I will be able to celebrate at some point when I see them.”

Botham has forged his own sporting path and his Wales debut will mean a lifelong dream has been fulfilled for a boy born in Cardiff but brought up in the north of England from age two after his father left the Arms Park to play for Newcastle.

James Botham went to Cundall Manor in Yorkshire and Sedbergh School in Cumbria but played for Wales Under-18s and Under-20s, meaning plenty of 500-mile round trips.

Lord Botham, James Botham and Liam Botham

Botham has always had his heart set on playing for Wales despite his English heritage.

“It has always been Wales,” he said.

“Everyone gives me grief about it – saying ‘your granddad couldn’t be more English if he tried’, but I was born down here and since I was a kid I had the Welsh flag painted in my room on the wall.

“I always wanted to play for Wales and that’s why I’ve stuck to it and done the long journey from Sedbergh down to Wales, to hopefully get myself in. It’s paid off.”

So what advice has his grandfather given him?

“He doesn’t say too much. I think that’s the best way as if you start thinking about it too much you overthink,” Botham said.

“He says ‘be professional about it, ignore the haters you’ll always get, keep your head down and try and become the best you can and the perks come with it. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Enjoy yourself – that’s the main thing’.”

Lord Botham’s cricketing prowess slowly dawned on his grandson as he grew up.

“I knew of it, but it wasn’t really until I got told by my gran,” said James.

“We were all playing cricket in the garden and he’s got a cigar in one hand, which he put in his mouth, a glass of wine in the other with a cricket bat!

“I did ask the question to my grandmother ‘was he any good at cricket?’. She said ‘he was all right at some point!’

“Growing up in school playing cricket myself, I realised it a bit more as people would try and get into me when I came out to bat. That all just goes over my head really, it doesn’t bother me.

“Everyone’s got their own opinions. You give people no reason to doubt and get on with it and there’s no going back.”

James Botham chatting to Wales head coach Wayne Pivac in training

Sadly one member of the family will be missing. James Botham’s great-grandfather Gerry Waller, father of his grandmother Kath, was a permanent fixture at his games but died five years ago before getting the chance to see him become a Wales international.

The flanker says he will be thinking of him come the anthem.

“Sadly the main man who was there for all my games was my great-grandfather who can’t be there this Saturday,” said Botham.

“He was there every game and would come up afterwards with his packet of jelly babies. It was a good sight at the end of the game, especially as a kid.

“He was always there from day one. Before he died I did promise I would try to play for Wales.

“He will be looking down on me from up there and hopefully I can do him proud on the weekend.”

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