Wayne Pivac impressed with Sir Ian Botham’s grandson James ahead of Wales debut

Wales head coach and New Zealander Wayne Pivac knows all about the Botham sporting dynasty.

Pivac remembers Sir Ian Botham and the occasions England’s great cricket all-rounder “destroyed” New Zealand on the international scene.

And Pivac is now relishing working with James Botham – Sir Ian’s 22-year-old grandson, who will make his Wales debut against Autumn Nations Cup opponents Georgia in Llanelli on Saturday.

The Cardiff Blues flanker was officially called up to Wales’ Nations Cup squad on Monday and he has played just 13 professional games.

But Cardiff-born Botham, whose father Liam played rugby union and rugby league for a number of clubs including Newcastle, Cardiff and Leeds Rhinos, is among three newcomers selected to face Georgia alongside Scarlets backs Johnny Williams and Kieran Hardy.

Pivac said: “I have seen his grandad play. When I saw him play, I was obviously supporting the New Zealand team and he probably bowled most of the batsmen out single-handedly and scored centuries on many occasions.

Ian Botham celebrates dismissing New Zealand’s Jeff Crowe
Ian Botham celebrates dismissing New Zealand’s Jeff Crowe

“He destroyed New Zealand many times. He was a very good cricketer.

“We are assessing individuals all the time and are aware of his background, but it’s really about the individual and what he brings.

“James has done very, very well in the short space of time he has been with us. Everyone has been impressed with what he has brought to the table.

“We (coaches) are all thinking the same thing – one, the guy can handle it, and two, we want to give him a go. We feel he will be a guy who will step up to the occasion.

“It’s his size, his athleticism, his skills, and for a young guy coming into a new environment his level of communication and confidence.

“He hasn’t played a minute at this level of the game, but he has played at regional level for the Blues, and what he’s done in the training environment suggests to me at his age there is a big future for him.

“We don’t want to put too much pressure on him, but he certainly deserves to be around these guys, and we will see how he goes on the weekend.”

Former London Irish and Newcastle centre Williams, meanwhile, was diagnosed with testicular cancer last year and underwent chemotherapy before returning to professional rugby 10 months ago.

He represented England and scored a try in a non-cap game against the Barbarians in 2019, but qualifies for Wales through his father, who hails from Rhyl.

Elsewhere, Bristol fly-half Callum Sheedy and 19-year-old Gloucester wing Louis Rees-Zammit will make their first Test starts after debuts as substitutes in recent games against Ireland and France, respectively.

But 84 times-capped centre Jonathan Davies, who does not play on Saturday, could be up against it to face England next week because of a knee injury.

For Rees-Zammit, whose rapid impact at Gallagher Premiership club Gloucester has seen him score 13 tries, it is a chance to show why he is rated so highly.

🤩 @LouisReesZammit starts for Wales! 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 https://t.co/nk6o2jb3Wg

— Gloucester Rugby (@gloucesterrugby) November 19, 2020

“It has all come so quickly,” Rees-Zammit said.

“It only feels like last year – well, it actually was in the under-18s – playing for my school, playing for my college, and now I am starting for the Welsh national team.

“I can’t wait to get this started and show people what I can do, and it’s my opportunity to show everyone and put my hand up for next week.”