The Golden Lions are targeting the signature of Springbok lock Bakkies Botha as their next major signing for 2012.
Botha’s contract ends at the end of October with the Bulls and it was widely expected that he would take up a lucrative contract with French club Toulon at this time.
However, sources in France have confirmed that Toulon have given up on getting the giant lock’s signature after he told them he had decided to end his career in South Africa.
The Bulls have not spoken to Botha about renewing his contract, mainly because he gave them an indication that he was not interested in renewing it after it ended.
Botha forms part of a small group of core Springboks – including Fourie du Preez, Danie Rossouw and Victor Matfield – who have indicated they are set to retire or go overseas after this year’s World Cup tournament in New Zealand.
After the signing of Butch James and ongoing negotiations with Frans Steyn and BJ Botha, Lions officials have made no secret of the fact they are looking for an experienced lock to join their ranks to bolster their young team.
They initially chased the signature of Andries Bekker, but the Stormers lock declined because he is happy in Cape Town and it now seems they have set their sights on Botha.
‘NOTHING OFFICIAL YET’
The Bulls have privately acknowledged they know approaches have been made to Botha, but when asked, chief executive Barend van Graan said they had heard “nothing official yet and therefore cannot comment on the matter.”
In Bulls team ranks it is said that Botha has negotiated with the Guma group – which is owned by investor Robert Gumede, one of the two big-money investors into the Lions this year.
Players are only officially allowed to negotiate new contracts as from 1 July according to South African Rugby Union regulations, but there is no clause that stops a player from negotiating with a third party.
Lions chief executive Manie Reyneke declined to comment on the matter when asked, but it is known that Botha has spoken to the Lions before.
The big lock is set to retire and concentrate on his farming and business interests, and a big payday at the Lions would certainly make his retirement options better.
It is expected that if the deal goes through, Botha would be at the Lions for one season, possibly two.
Neither Botha, nor his agent were available for comment but Lions investor Ivor Ichikowitz denied the move.
“The rumours are not true as far as I am aware,” he said in a text message.