He was voted Rugby Player of the Year in 1979, 1981, 1985 and 1987. Botha mostly played in the fly-half position and is now a rugby commentator for the South African M-Net and Supersport TV channels. He is also the Head Coach of the Indian Men’s and women’s rugby union teams.
Botha was born in the town of Breyten in the Eastern Transvaal (now Mpumalanga), South Africa and went to school at the Hoërskool Hendrik Verwoerd in Pretoria. As a child, Botha aspired to playing professional baseball and applied for a sport scholarship in the United States. Botha was also an excellent schools cricket and tennis player and also a hurdles athlete.
However, Botha was selected to play for the South African under-20 rugby team, where he caught the eye of the selectors while still a student at the University of Pretoria. As a result, Botha played his first Test for the Springboks on 26 April 1980 at the age of 22 in the flyhalf position against South America at Wanderers, Johannesburg.
Botha was best known for extremely accurate (both left- and right-footed) kicking, which earned him the nickname “Nasty Booter” from the British press when the British Lions toured South Africa in 1980. He is best remembered for his abilities as a very successful drop-kicker in high pressure situations and is also considered to have had an outstanding tactical understanding of rugby.
While Botha was sometimes criticised for avoiding physical contact and not running with the ball, his handling of the ball was very deft and he could get his backline moving very quickly with accurate short and long range passing. As a result, he scored many tries and contributed to many more. However, some consider that he was somewhat weak in defence. Nevertheless, Danie Craven once said, “Give me Naas, and I’ll conquer the world!”
Botha remained the highest points scorer in Springbok rugby history for a number of years, with a points total of 312. His tally was passed by Percy Montgomery on 17 July 2004. However, Montgomery passed him in his 50th match, while Botha had only played in 28.
In addition to his Springbok rugby-playing duties, Botha also played for the Northern Transvaal province (nicknamed the “Blou Bulle”, which means “Blue Bulls“, now their official name) from 1977 to 1995. During this period his contributions ensured that they dominated domestic South African rugby, and won the Currie Cup nine times (sharing it twice with Western Province in 1979 and 1989). He was also captain of the province a record 128 times, and scored a record 2,511 points (including 1,699 points in the Currie Cup).
In 1981 Botha travelled with the Springboks to South America; they subsequently beat Ireland and France in their warm-up to their tour of New Zealand. Public opinion was deeply divided over the New Zealand tour, but Botha and his fellow Springboks focused on playing rugby, which was made difficult by actions such as pitch invasions and aircraft fly-bys from protesters opposed to South Africa’s apartheid policies. South Africa lost the series 2–1, but the implications of the tour went far beyond rugby.
As an indirect result of this tour, South Africa was banned by the International Rugby Board from international competition until 1992, which meant apart from hosting the rebel New Zealand Cavaliers tour in 1986, Botha played few international games. Domestically he made up for it, however: in 15 seasons playing for Northern Transvaal he played in 11 Currie Cup finals, winning nine (two shared) and scoring a record 2,511 points.