Bakkies Botha has told Paul O’Connell his move to Toulon could extend the Ireland captain’s career by up to four years — if he relaxes and learns to enjoy his time in France.
O’Connell will join the triple European champions on a two-year deal after the Rugby World Cup, bringing down the curtain on a glorious 14-year career with Munster.
He will replace the retiring Botha at the Stade Mayol, and the South African legend says his former club could not have found a better man to take his place in the Toulon second row next season.
And having found a new lease of life since moving to Toulon in 2011, Botha says O’Connell could carry on playing beyond his initial two-year contract in France, as the club allows their senior players to dictate their own training schedules in order to prolong their careers.
“They really look after players in Toulon,” said Botha, who will play for the Barbarians against Samoa in the first rugby game at London’s Olympic Stadium on Saturday.
“The core of players that went there were has-beens in their own countries. They were over the hill, done with their careers.
“But then they come to Toulon and boom — you’ve a whole new player playing the best rugby they can, and achieving what they can.
“When I went there in 2011 I thought my career was over, but two years after that, I played for the Springboks again.
“So can it add three or four more years to Paul’s career? Definitely. We aren’t workaholics there.
“We showed the rugby world that we don’t need to be working every week until all the blood and sweat is out of our bodies.
“We just laid back during the week, enjoyed what we did and never forgot where we were coming from. Come the weekend we are on it, and we play. But to do that you need to achieve things and know it is all about results.
“Also the Top 14 is slower and played in wet conditions more, although it is more physical than elsewhere. But it is beautiful to go there and enjoy your rugby.
“I don’t regret for one day that I went there.”
Botha has warned O’Connell he must curb his perfectionism if he is to truly enjoy his time in the south of France.
He added: “Paul is a phenomenal signing for Toulon, a world-class leader and player. But he mustn’t put too much pressure on himself. I know he is the kind of guy who puts a lot of emphasis on lineouts and analysis, analysis, analysis.
“But the culture is laid-back, and he must enjoy that. The French have their ways and that is how they are. You won’t change that.
“I am the type of guy that puts a lot of pressure on myself to get the best out of me. But as soon as I arrived in Toulon, I realised I am not going to change the way they do stuff.
“If you think: ‘I am going to put this, this and this into place,’ then it creates unnecessary pressure on yourself.
“And Paul is at the stage of his life when he doesn’t need to prove anything. He has achieved what he wanted to and is now going to Toulon to hopefully win one or two more bits of silverware.
“I firmly believe that if he goes there with the mindset of just playing his game and not putting pressure on himself, then he will really enjoy it.”
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