It seems that Rudi Straueli is asking himself the same question and you can’t really blame him for not having an immediate answer to hand.
The Sharks Procurement Committee meets today to discuss the news that broke yesterday. Peter de Villiers has confirmed John Smit as Bok captain for the 2008 season and wishes for the former Sharks stalwart to return to SA to play domestic rugby here. SARU have commenced negotiations with Smit’s French club, Clermont Auvergne, to secure an early release from his two-year contract. Smit is currently out of action for at least 2 months with a knee injury, but insists that he remains committed to the terms of his contract and trusts SARU will negotiate a professional, clean exit for him, if they indeed succeed in convincing the French that he is surplus to their requirements.
Now John is a local hero in Durban. Prior to the World Cup triumph, I think it’s safe to say he was less highly-regarded in other areas of our rugby-mad country and I’m sure if he had any say in the matter, he could think of nowhere other than the Sharks to make his return to SA domestic rugby. There is, however, once large and fiery problem and it goes by the name of Bismarck Wilhelm du Plessis.
Bismarck is a special talent and already after Round 1 is head and shoulders above the other hookers vying for the Bok berth. Having served a three year apprenticeship under Smit at the Sharks and playing the role of his deputy at the World Cup last year, Bissie must have been pretty relieved to finally step out of the big man’s shadow this season. The announcement yesterday was a pretty clear indication that du Plessis is likely to collect far more green jerseys with the number 16 on them than the number 2 this year. That in itself is quite a blow and if he is now told that the starting hooker berth at the Sharks will go back to Smit, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Bismarck pack his bags for pastures greener. I also wouldn’t fall over from shock if his brother went with him.
Loyalty is one thing and Smit is a Sharks stalwart, but he’s turning 30 in April, whereas du Plessis is in his early twenties. Craig Burden has had a lot of time invested in him as well and is looking better at hooker each game he plays. The fact is, as harsh as it may sound, the Sharks just plain do not need John Smit back at hooker. Where he does have a huge role to play and a vast amount to offer is in the area of leadership and experience. If this is to be utilised in Durban, a spot will need to be found for him somewhere else. Loosehead prop seems the most logical place as the Sharks have 3 very good tightheads on their books and it’s a position that requires specialisation. Smit last played tighthead at under 21 level.
But what then of the highly-rated Deon Carstens and Beast Mtawarira? And the highly-paid Kees Lensing? It’s getting more and more difficult to justify taken Smit back at all and this is exactly what is going to be preying on Straueli’s mind as he balances loyalty to a stalwart against doing what’s best in the medium-term interests of his squad.
It breaks my heart to say it, but I think John Smit needs to play his provincial rugby somewhere else. The Cheetahs have hookers a-plenty and the Bulls have never rated him, so that leaves the Stormers (who already have Tiaan Liebenberg) and the Lions. The latter would be my pick, as I think John’s strength, leadership and experience could go a long way towards turning the Joburg franchise into serious Super 14 contenders in 2009.Tweet