Cardiff forward James Botham. Pic: Getty Images.

James Botham Insists Cardiff Are Defying Their Critics As They Step Up URC Play-Off Bid

By Harry Corish

James Botham insists Cardiff have forced their critics to eat their words, having recovered from heavy defeats earlier in the season.

It’s a big claim from the Wales international, given that the team have lost three of their four matches played so far this year.

But as Cardiff prepare for the toughest assignment in European rugby – a trip to Dublin to face Leinster on Saturday evening in a game that is live on S4C – Botham believes the capital city region have already proved some sceptics wrong and insists there is more to come.

“I think a lot of people were looking down on us at the start of the year,” says the 24-year-old flanker.

“You can look at one or two negatives, but the general overall theme of the season has been positive. A lot of the boys have come through and I think we have put a lot of critics to bed, really.

“We had a lot to prove coming back from the last season, obviously with what’s going on with contracts etc there’s still a lot to prove, and the performances should only go up.

“But I’d like to think this is a new Cardiff and for people to think of us this season and not dwell on the past.”

Cardiff have lost seven matches in all competitions so far this season and although they are the highest ranked Welsh side in the United Rugby Championship, they are still back in 10th place and currently outside the play-off places.

Cardiff were a target for the snipers early in the campaign after they were hammered in Glasgow, then lost at home to the Lions and suffered off-field disciplinary issues.

They recovered to win three URC games on the bounce, but their momentum has regularly been punctured by defeats – an inconsistency that has frustrated director of rugby Dai Young.

Home defeats this month to the Ospreys and Scarlets posed more questions, although a thumping win over Newcastle in the European Challenge Cup underlined the squad’s potential.

Now comes the ultimate test of facing the leaders and best team in the URC, who are the only unbeaten team in the competition.

“The RDS is one of the most difficult places to go in European rugby, they have made it into fortress, so we know we will have to be at our best,” says Botham.

“They are so strong across the whole squad and there will be players coming into that team who will be eager to impress much like our boys.

“They are strong in several aeras of the game, so we will have to make sure all the parts of our game come together if we are to get anything from Dublin.

“The back row battle will be crucial; we can’t let them win that gain line battle or it will make turnovers very difficult to come by. It is an area we have been strong in this year, so hopefully we can use it to our advantage.”

Injuries have disrupted Botham’s progress in recent weeks, meaning he was not expecting a call-up to Warren Gatland’s Six Nations squad which was named last week.

Botham won the last of his nine caps against Argentina at the end of the 2020-21 season and believes he has yet to put together a run of games to catch the eye of Gatland, who was back in New Zealand at the time the back rower was earning Test selection.

““I wasn’t expecting a call up,” he says.

“I’ve been injured for about five weeks, and I haven’t been able to put in the performances you need to be recognised for because of that.

“I need to prove myself. But we need the competition in Welsh rugby, it will be good to see the boys out there and doing well and I’m looking forward to watching it. It will be interesting to see how it goes.

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“The competition in the back row is huge at the moment and it’s only good for Wales.

“The more competition you have got it means no-one is ever comfortable and you’ve got to keep putting performances and can’t take anything for granted.”

Both Cardiff and Leinster will be without all their Test contingent and with injuries on top, Young’s side are without around 20 players in total.

Botham adds: “It’s going to be a big challenge for us, we know that even with all the internationals that are not involved they will still be very strong.

“They have got such a strength in depth it doesn’t matter who plays, whoever is wearing that Leinster shirt will put in a big shift and we can’t underestimate them at any point.”


S4C – Saturday, 4.50pm: Leinster v Cardiff

Live action from the RDS Arena in Dublin as Leinster host Cardiff in the United Rugby Championship.

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