Butch James joins South Africa's Golden Lions rugby team
JOHANNESBURG // South Africa's Golden Lions have signed Springbok fly-half and 2007 World Cup winner Butch James from English club Bath for the final part of the Super 15 season.
The Johannesburg-based Lions said James, 32, will join in May on a two-year deal.
James was presented at a Johannesburg airport on Tuesday after arriving in a private jet belonging to new Lions shareholder Ivor Ichikowitz.
The billionaire South African businessmen and Robert Gumede last year bought a 49 per cent stake in the Lions, formerly known as Transvaal and one of South Africa's strongest rugby provinces, and pledged to turn around the fortunes of the struggling team.
The Lions lost all 13 of their games in the 2010 Super 14 - the worst season ever by a Super Rugby team. But the Lions revived their fortunes in South Africa's Currie Cup competition under former New Zealand coach John Mitchell, who joined after the Super 14.
The investment by Gumede and Ichikowitz has linked the team with a string of high-profile names, including James and fellow Springboks Tendai Mtawarira, BJ Botha, the prop-forwards and Francois Steyn, the utiity back.
"I'm proud to be returning to South Africa and to be joining the Lions," James said, "but at the same time sad to be leaving Bath after four successful seasons.
"The Lions vision excites me and I'm also very keen to be part of the Springboks for the World Cup again."
A former fly-half with the Natal Sharks, James has played 40 Tests for South Africa but fell out of favor after his move to Bath before being recalled to the Tri-Nations squad last year.
"Butch comes with a wealth of experience and has tremendous value to add to the Lions," Mitchell said. "I'm really looking forward to working with a player with Butch's calibre and experience."
The Lions said they had been in contact with Bath since October in an effort to secure James's move, adding that they are "honored and humbled" to finally sign the player.
Gumede, an IT mogul, and Ichikowitz, who owns an arms and defence company, last year promised to transform the face of South African rugby with their investment in the Lions.
They said they would make the sport as popular with black fans as it is with white supporters, and will stage Lions games in Soweto following successful matches at the Johannesburg township for the Pretoria Bulls and South Africa's national team last year.
The Lions are still reportedly trying to sign South Africa props Botha and Mtawarira ahead of the new Super 15 season. The team begins the tournament against defending champions and local rivals the Bulls on February 19.