How James Botham, grandson of cricketer Ian, rose to Wales' rugby team

‘There’s genetics in there, a winning mentality, an athleticism’: How James Botham, grandson of legendary England cricketer Sir Ian, ended up playing Rugby for Wales… with the flanker set for debut against Georgia

  • James Botham is among three Wales debutants set to face Georgia on Saturday 
  • The Cardiff Blues flanker is the grandson of the England cricket icon Ian Botham 
  • Touted as having the genes of a Botham, he hopes to help Wales out of a rut

It took James Botham a while to realise who his grandfather was — but he found out in typical style.

‘We were all playing cricket in the garden,’ says the 22-year-old, plucking out a childhood memory. ‘He’s got a cigar in one hand, a glass of wine in the other with a cricket bat!  

I asked my grandmother, “Was he any good at cricket?” She said, “He was all right at some point!”’

James Botham (middle), grandson of the legendary Sir Ian (left), is set for his Wales debut 

The Cardiff Blues flanker is set to be one of three debutants to face Georgie on Saturday 

A glorious understatement from Kath, wife of one of England’s greatest sportsmen, let alone cricketers.

So how does the grandson of Ian Botham — first Sir, now Lord — end up playing rugby for Wales? ‘Everyone gives me grief about it, saying, “Your grandad couldn’t be more English if he tried!”’ laughs James, known to his mates as Jim and his family as Jimbo. 

‘But I was born down here and since I was a kid I had the Welsh flag painted on the wall in my room. I always wanted to play for Wales.’

Botham was born in Cardiff in 1998, while father Liam played rugby for the capital’s club having given up his own cricket career. 

When he was two, the family moved to the North East. At Cundall Manor School and then Sedbergh School in Cumbria, Botham tried cricket — naturally as an all-rounder — and it dawned on him that people knew his background.

Ian Botham is one of England’s most iconic cricketers and one of the greatest all-rounders ever

‘I realised people would try to get into me when I batted,’ he says. ‘That all just goes over my head.’

While in Sedbergh’s sixth form, dad Liam made contact with Cardiff Blues and Botham had a trial. ‘He came down in a half-term holiday,’ recalls Richard Hodges, then in charge of the Blues academy but now the senior team’s defence coach.

‘He was 13st soaking wet, so we spoke to him about physical development and nutrition.

‘We put him into a second-team school game and he had a hat-trick in 20 minutes. There was obviously something there!’

James, aged nine-years-old, poses with his grandfather after Ian received his knighthood

The trouble was Botham spent his life travelling from Cumbria to Cardiff, driving 500-mile round trips twice a week. He would leave at 5pm on a Sunday for 7am Monday training.

‘He just wanted to make it,’ says Hodges.

The young flanker had another reminder of who he was on his debut for Cardiff RFC at Neath.

‘He got a red card for a tip tackle,’ explains Hodges. ‘I had to go to a disciplinary hearing and managed to get him off. The first question they asked was about his grandfather, so you know you’re on a winner!’

Botham is touted for big things in rugby thanks to sharing his grandfather’s winning mentality 

James is certainly a Botham. ‘He’s blessed with some God-given ingredients,’ says Hodges. 

‘There’s genetics in there, a winning mentality, an athleticism. He doesn’t care for anyone or anything when it comes to rugby — it’s just about striving to reach the top. He’s a cracking kid with a big future.’

Botham, now 6ft 2in and 16st, will bring physicality as one of three starting debutants against Georgia. 

The Cardiff Blues flanker will hope he can help his Wales team recover after a slump in form 

Grandfather Ian often inspired England to get out of holes. Now, after six defeats in seven, it is Wales’s time to turn to a Botham when desperate for a win.

Lord Botham told the BBC: ‘If I was in Outer Mongolia I would find some way of watching him.

‘I’ll be absolutely delighted when he gets that Wales cap. I’ve been on the wagon for four weeks and my next drink was going to be Christmas Day. I might sneak one on Saturday!’

While no family can support him at Parc y Scarlets, James’s greatest regret is that his great-grandad never lived to see this day. ‘Before he died I did promise I would try to play for Wales,’ says Botham ‘Hopefully I can do him proud.’

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