Springbok coach Peter de Villiers readily admits it is a “gamble”, but he hopes that by moving captain John Smit to tighthead he can extend his playing career through to the next World Cup.
Rugby 365 reports that the decision to move Smit to No.3 is one of two bolters in the team announced after the Currie Cup Final in Durban at the weekend.
The other came at flyhalf, where a struggling Lions No.10 Earl Rose made it ahead of form players like Morné Steyn and Peter Grant.
At least the reasoning behind Smit’s move makes sense.
According to De Villiers moving Smit to tighthead ensures the Boks can use the in-form hooker Bismarck du Plessis in the same front row.
It also allows them to re-introduce one-time Bok captain Chiliboy Ralepelle, who seem to have finally overcome two years of serious knee troubles and was used as a back-up hooker by Jake White.
However, the main reason for the decision to turn Smit into the Boks’ scrum anchor is to retain his captaincy for the tour of the British & Irish Lions next year and through to the next World Cup – 2011 in New Zealand.
“We have to take John [Smit] through to the next World Cup,” De Villiers said, admitting that it is a risk.
“I think the shift now from hooker to tighthead will extend his rugby career at international level a bit, so I hope it works for us – for South Africa, for him and for me.
“If not I’m in trouble,” the Bok coach said.
“The thing is that we have a problem at tighthead and we have two really excellent players at hooker,” said De Villiers.
While a strong case could be made for a specialist tighthead like Sharks star Jannie du Plessis and even veteran Bok prop CJ van der Linde, De Villiers has made it clear that retaining Smit’s leadership in the squad is vital to the Bok cause.
Smit’s leadership qualities came to the fore in the 2007 World Cup, his calm under pressure and inspirational captaincy seeing South Africa win the Web Ellis Cup for the second time.
And moving him to tighthead is not such a far-fetched move.
He captained South Africa as a prop at the 1999 SANZAR/UAR Under-21 tournament in Argentina – where they beat New Zealand in the Final.
And while he did not play any rugby at prop in the Currie Cup this year, he did play tighthead during his one-season stint with French giants Clermont.
John Smit holds the Springbok record as the most capped captain – 52 Tests. He has played in 78 internationals since his debut against Canada in 2000. His last Test was against New Zealand in July this year, when he was spear tackled by Brad Thorn and suffered a groin injury that ruled him out of Test rugby for the rest of the season.
Brian Mujati is the back-up tighthead on the tour to Wales, Scotland and England – while Du Plessis is on standby as the official reserve No.3.Tweet