The good news for South African rugby fans is that Springbok captain John Smit has been released early from his contract with French club Clermont and will return to Durban this Saturday.
Mike Greenaway reports for the IOL that the bad news for Sharks fans is that Smit will be en route to either the Blue Bulls, Western Province or the Lions – unless the Sharks can resolve a complex situation involving current Sharks hooker Bismarck du Plessis.
Last year, when Du Plessis re-signed for the Sharks, he had a clause installed that holds that he can be released from his contract should Smit return early from France.
Du Plessis, who turns 24 on Thursday, obviously wanted to ensure that his apprenticeship behind Smit was well and truly over and that he would be more or less guaranteed starting time in Durban… or would be free to move to a province where he would be the No 1 hooker.
The highly combative Du Plessis has been one of South Africa’s form Super 14 players, but surely there is room at the inn for both him and the Springbok captain, not to mention emerging talent Craig Burden.
Sharks fans will hope the Sharks can sit down with Smit, Du Plessis and the new coach John Plumtree and work something out so that Smit’s priceless experience is not lost to another province (the Sharks administration has said that it will not comment on contractual issues until the Super 14 is over).
“My heart is at the Sharks,” Smit said on Saturday from France.
“And I am extremely excited about coming home and re-launching my rugby career. I have learned a great deal playing for Clermont in a championship where there is huge accent on forward play, but my desire to play for the Springboks is stronger than ever and ultimately I need to be based in South Africa.
“And if I had a choice that base would be in Durban.”
SA Rugby’s Andy Marinos has done very well to extricate the 30-year-old Smit from his two-year contract, with the only minor hiccup being that Smit must return to France for the weekends of the French championship semi-finals and possibly the final, which means he will miss the Test match against Italy in late June.
“It is difficult to explain how pleased I am to be coming home,” Smit said.
“Very few players get the opportunity to play again in South Africa after having moved to Europe. I feel that I am starting all over again and have the same enthusiasm and excitement I had as a 19-year-old joining the Sharks.”
Smit says that he has a burning ambition to beat the All Blacks in New Zealand for the first time in his career, and the British Lions next year.
We have seen this season how the Sharks have struggled for consistency because of the loss of experience from last year, and the situation could be exacerbated because of the possible loss of tighthead prop Brendon Botha to Ulster and AJ Venter to Western Province.
Botha has been offered a highly lucrative contract by the Irish side and the Sharks and SA Rugby together unfortunately cannot come close, so Botha has a decision to make – foreign shores for a few years and a secure financial future, or the green grass of home.
Venter’s contract with the Sharks is up at the end of this month but he has changed his mind on retirement and wants to play on for another year with a view to moving into some kind of coaching role after that.Tweet