Springbok captain John Smit at the weekend made the most compelling statement yet about his conversion to being an international tighthead prop.
And in the process he allayed Bok coach Peter de Villiers’ fears that the scrums could be troublesome against the visiting British and Irish Lions next month.
Smit, scrumming down against giant Highlanders and All Black prop Jamie Mackintosh, anchored the Sharks scrum in what was the first time this season that the highly rated Highlanders pack was pushed backwards.
In fact the 23-15 Super 14 victory by the Sharks produced two tightheads, apart from the numerous times the Highlanders backs received the ball from a retreating scrum.
The entire Sharks front row of Smit, Bismarck du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira – and later when Deon Carstens and Jannie du Plessis stepped into the fray – deserve credit for a truly dominant performance.
However, it was the manner in which Smit stood up the man mountain that Mackintosh is – at 130kg and 192cm – that would have pleased the Bok coach most.
The Bok captain, who gave away about 15kg and at least five centimetres to the giant Kiwi, is truly pleased with his progress since being reinstated at tighthead by the Bok coach last year.
Although Smit played at prop as a junior, and captained his country at Under-21 level from the position, he has played almost all of his senior rugby at No.2.
Smit, speaking to rugby365 about his conversion from hooker to prop, admitted that “initially” it was very tough.
“It was a far bigger change than I expected,” Smit said, adding: “I thought I knew what to expect, because I played there as a youngster.
“However, the change was quite big.
“At first I struggled to get the right kind of fitness and the right running lines. You need the fitness where you can scrum for two or three scrums, still get to the breakdown and be part of the ball carries and all that.”
But Smit feels the hard work and additional game time in the No.3 jersey is beginning to pay dividends.
“The more I play [at tighthead] the better it gets and I am enjoying it at the moment,” Smit told rugby365.com.
“I’m quite excited about putting the No.3 jersey on every time I am given the chance by Plum [Sharks coach John Plumtree].
“It was a bit daunting at first, but the more I’ve played there the happier I have become.”
Smit’s progress and standout performance at the weekend comes at a time when most other leading South African tightheads are either injured or showing poor form.
World Cup-winning Bok prop CJ van der Linde, who plays for Irish province Leinster, has been sidelined with a foot injury for some time and may not recover in time for the B&I Lions tour – even though the back door is being kept open for him to play for a Namibian Invitational XV against an SA XV in Windhoek later this month, should he make an unexpected recovery.
Another Bok prop playing in Ireland, BJ Botha, has not received a call yet, but the former Sharks No.3 is not that high on the national rankings at the moment.
The same goes for injured Stormers tighthead Brian Mujati, who hasn’t played for several weeks as a result of concussion. However, even before his injury-enforced lay-off his stocks dropped as a result of the poor form he showed on the year-end tour last year and in the Super 14 this year.
Smit’s most likely back-up for the No.3 jersey in the series against the Lions will be his Sharks teammate Jannie du Plessis, who has grown in stature this year as he regularly rotated at tighthead with the Bok captain.
Smit, with 81 Tests to his credit, is South Africa’s most capped hooker and also holds the mark for most Tests as Bok captain, 55.
Article Courtesy of Rugby 365Tweet