Opportunity knocks for Botica
October 25, 2012
Ben Botica has made an impressive start to life at Harlequins © PA Photos
The way most clubs structure their final training session of the week means it is often the kickers who are the last to apply the finishing touches to their preparations.
The Captain's Run - so called because it's the one time during the build-up when the coaches retire to the touchline and the skipper takes charge - tends to be a short, sharp affair when the match-day squad have one final run through the weekend's game-plan.
Over the course of half-an-hour or so, they'll oil their offensive moves, test the critical parts of the defensive set-up and remind themselves of the key line-out calls. Then, as the bulk of the squad head back to the showers and an afternoon with their feet up, the kickers round-up the balls and drop their tees in front of the posts.
It's a ritual you will see most Fridays at grounds up and down the country. It is the time when the largely unseen work is put in, the time that goes towards making those long range penalties look effortless and keeps the kicking percentages in the high 70s and 80s.
And it's no exception at The Stoop. Usually it's Nick Evans putting in the overtime, making sure he's word-perfect as coach Mark Mapletoft returns the balls from behind the posts.
But with the All Black still nursing his injured ankle for another week, the extra shift and kicking duties ahead of Harlequins' trip to London Irish belong to Ben Botica. In front of ESPN's cameras on Sunday, the 23-year-old will be hoping to strengthen a growing belief that he could be Evans' long-term replacement.
The New Zealander's arrival over the summer was a significant one - and not simply because his dad Frano is a rugby league legend after his time with Wigan. Quins' director of rugby Conor O'Shea wasn't overly fussed about adding to a squad that won last season's Aviva Premiership, but he saw something very special in Botica and a potential that could be nurtured at the club.
The player decided to leave New Zealand after failing to make the breakthrough back home. He was a regular with North Harbour, but didn't make the cut for the Blues' Super Rugby squad. So after a brief spell in France at the back end of last season, he found himself in London at the start of this.
Botica settled into his new surroundings quickly and it wasn't long before the coaches were describing him as the best kicker at the club - some accolade when the other Kiwi doing the job wasn't bad at that aspect of the game.
Evans' injury in the early stages of the Heineken Cup match against Biarritz a fortnight ago opened the door for Botica. In just his second appearance for the club he produced a nerveless kicking display. His 18 points against the French were followed by another 20 away to Connacht last weekend.
That performance in particular - in hostile conditions at The Showground in Galway - added to O'Shea's belief that the club have got themselves a little gem.
This time next season Nick Evans may still be swinging his arms towards the posts in that familiar style at the end of another Quins Captain's Run. But if he hasn't been persuaded to sign on for another stint at The Stoop, then there are early signs the champions might just have another ready-made Kiwi with a killer boot set to step in.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Nick Mullins is lead commentator for live Aviva Premiership Rugby on ESPN