Being born in Wales was always important to James Botham.
Even though he was a toddler when he moved to England, where his English father played club rugby union and league, and his grandfather was one of England’s greatest cricketers, Botham insisted as a kid on his bedroom being red and the three feathers of Wales being prominent.
As soon as he got his driver’s license, he was taking the 800km round trip from his home in Sedbergh in the Yorkshire Dales to Cardiff — sometimes twice a week — to train with the Wales Under-18s and the academy at Cardiff, his father, Liam’s, old club.
That passion was to pay off yesterday when the 22-year-old was to make his senior Wales debut against Georgia at Llanelli in the Autumn Nations Cup.
With only 13 professional club matches behind him — four this season — Botham made the team after injuries to loose forwards Josh Navidi and Ross Moriarty, and the need to rest Taulupe Faletau and Cardiff Blues clubmate Shane Lewis-Hughes.
However, Wales coach Wayne Pivac has had an eye on Botham for a year and has been impressed with what he can do and who he is. And Pivac is keen to find talent to replace an aging side.
Cardiff Blues coach John Mulvihill said: “He has got some physical aggression, is hard on the ball and a very good ball carrier. He brings massive energy to people around him so we are looking forward to seeing him in a Welsh jersey.”
Botham said that he sought advice, including from his grandfather Ian Botham, who knows plenty about the spotlight and big stages.
Ian Botham “says: ‘Be professional about it, ignore the haters you will always get, keep your head down, 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,”’ James Botham said.
“I knew of it [Botham’s spectacular cricket career], but it wasn’t really until I got told by my gran,” he said. “We were all playing cricket in the garden and he’s got a cigar in one hand, which he put in his mouth, and 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.’”
James Botham was in bed on Sunday last week when he was called into the Wales squad for the first time.
“It’s happened fast and I did not think this would be the case this week. Since I was a kid I dreamt of this moment. I am over the moon and thrilled,” he said. “I couldn’t thank everyone around me more for helping me get here and giving me the opportunity.”
Just 72 hours later, he was even more surprised to see his name in the starting lineup.
“I was just looking at it thinking this can’t be real, but it is. I can’t wait to go out there now,” he said.
Wales were to take the field after press time last night, with England and Ireland to play earlier.
Scotland and France are to play today.
Meanwhile, Fiji have had their third Autumn Nations Cup match canceled because of a COVID-19 outbreak in the squad.
The team’s third-round fixture against Scotland on Saturday next week at Murrayfield was called off on Friday.
“The extent of infection in the Fiji camp, combined with a minimum 10-day isolation period, plus the obvious need for suitable preparation for any international test match meant that, whilst difficult, the decision was unavoidable,” tournament organizers said.
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