Advice from two World Cup-winning props and a stint in the tough school of French front row forwards have prepared Springbok captain John Smit for one of the “biggest” challenges of his career.
Jan De Koning writes for Rugby 365 that Smit, addressing a media conference at the Bok team’s base in Cape Town on Wednesday, said he is ready to make a more permanent shift to tighthead prop on South Africa’s year-end tour – to Wales, Scotland and England.
Coach Peter de Villiers had no hesitation in backing the 30-year-old Smit to make the tough transition from hooker to anchor the scrum in the No.3 jersey.
“I made the selection and I certainly feel comfortable [with the decision],” De Villiers told the media throng, adding: “He [Smit] is an exceptional rugby player and he can make that step up – not just for himself and the team, but even for world rugby.
“In the light of the new ELVs [Experimental Law Variations] he is the type of player we were looking for.”
Smit, despite his admission that it is a “big challenge”, was equally confident that he will not let the World Cup-winning Bok team down.
“It is where I started my career,” he said of his first position as a player at junior school.
“I played prop from junior school, through to high school up till Under-21.
“The challenge is to make that kind of change at the highest level. Obviously I’ll have to put a lot of work in, in the next week or so. However, I think I can feel fortunate that I had quite a lot of attention put onto that position when I was in France [at Clermont Auvergne].
“We had a tighthead crisis and I had to wear the No.3 jersey. It is going to be one of my biggest challenges of the last couple of seasons and it is one that I’m looking forward to … going the full circle in my career here.”
Smit, asked if he was disappointed at not playing hooker anymore, dismissed the suggestion that he was “giving up” the No.2 jersey.
“I think the word ‘surrender’ is out of context. It’s not about surrendering.
“I’ve just turned 30 this year and my body feels pretty good … it’s not like I’m at that stage where I’m on the bus to training thinking ‘oh, no, not another one’.
“I enjoy training, I enjoy playing, and Bismarck [du Plessis, the Bok hooker] and I have come a long way. He’s going to be one of the best hookers in the world.
“You know, if the coach wanted to pick me at lock I’d probably think I’d be the best lock in the world as well! I’ll surrender nothing; I’m here to play and to make the team the best it could be, whether it’s as baggage boy, tighthead or hooker.
“For me it is not about the first cap or the next cap, it is about how much I can contribute back to the team.”
Smit added that apart from the “coaching” he received during his brief stint in France, with Top 14 outfit Clermont, he has been getting some “guidance” from Balie Swart – the tighthead in the 1995 World Cup-winning Bok team.
Swart is most famous for his determined efforts in the semifinal of the 1995 World Cup, when – against a very powerful French team – he stood his ground in a succession of scrums near the Bok tryline late in the game.
Swart has since had coaching stints in New Zealand and more recently (under Jake White) as a Bok scrum coach. He has since returned to do duty with the Sharks, where Smit received some handy tips from the burly former front row forward.
“I’ve been working with Balie [Swart] for a number of years and especially over the last couple of weeks as well, this is certainly not something that has happened overnight,” Smit said.
“I had a lot of work done in France as well when I had to answer the call there,” Smit said, adding that his World Cup-winning teammate BJ Botha has also been dishing out some advice.
“You know, BJ is forever sending me text messages to ‘get into the V’. For those of you who don’t know, that’s when a tighthead’s getting nice and comfortable and he’s hoping the referee won’t blow him.”
Smit, who only returned to the playing field a few weeks ago after suffering a groin injury in the opening week of the Tri-Nations – a spear tackle by All Black Brad Thorn the main cause of the injury, said he enjoyed the break.
“Luckily I came back a few weeks early and caught the back end of the Currie Cup, I got in quite a bit of running.
“An injury is like an off-season – you get hungry again.”Tweet