Rugby World Cup 2011
Smit gets stab at immortality
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - It’s unparalleled greatness or bust now for John Smit, it seems.
You could probably say that the cat is finally out of the bag: with his selection as captain and occupier of the No 2 jersey for the Springboks’ World Cup quarter-final against Australia on Sunday, coach Peter de Villiers will also be considered by many judges to have issued his final confirmation that the 33-year-old really isn’t going to be some kind of mere, peripheral figurehead at the business end of the tournament.
All possibilities still existed for much of the group phase, let’s face it, with Smit and his younger Sharks team-mate Bismarck du Plessis experiencing both run-on and bench roles as the Boks eventually finished difficult Pool D as winners.
Yet with many distinguished neutrals in the rugby world still punting Du Plessis as possibly the best No 2 on the planet and the understudy probably doing more than Smit during Bok combat thus far to impress people in pure playing terms, there seemed room for the latter to inspire his men from the bench or even a blazer in the grand stand – thus leaving co-senior Victor Matfield to do the main match-day leadership task he is well acquainted with.
It is certainly a route I favoured immediately before RWC and then even more resolutely after Du Plessis made a critical, obvious late difference to the tottering cause in the awfully close-shave triumph over Wales.
Since then, though, give the ever-tenacious old guy his due: he has been picking up a good enough head of personal steam and going quite some way to allaying fears that he lacks the required dynamism for the Test job these days.
Smit ticks boxes in his complex head-to-head with Du Plessis, for instance, at key basics like lineout throwing and scrummaging, even if the reserve remains routinely more prominent in general play and especially at effecting turnovers.
Just as importantly, both Smit and his many allies in the “2007 veterans” department have mostly managed to persuade us all during the course of pool play that they do, indeed, possess the genuine, collective hunger for the elusive repeat quest.
Nor can his diplomatic and motivational skills be said to have waned – these are not things that disappear with the advance of age and they probably only get better.
It will be intriguing to see just how much game-time Smit gets against the Aussies, although obviously much of it may depend on the Boks’ health or otherwise on the scoreboard.
Noses in front or not, there may be strong sense in Du Plessis getting as much of the second half as possible.
But for the moment, John William Smit continues his march toward unprecedented achievement as a leader of rugby troops.
He will know deep down that in the hostile arena of punditry and spectatorship, vultures will already be circling, steeling themselves to blame it all – or at least nearly all -- on the captain if the Bok march at this tournament is suddenly stopped dead in its tracks in Wellington on Sunday.
And yes, that’s even if he happens to play out of his own socks on the day, I’m pretty sure.
Smit tweeted earlier this week: “Jeepers, I hope that’s my last Wellington landing, been landing in this wind for 13 years to play rugby!”
His still robust lobby of admirers will be praying that no ill wind blows Smit and his presently merry men out of town and right back across the Indian Ocean early next week.
The chunky hooker will make his 111th Test appearance on Sunday, a superstitious, shivers-inducing little figure to those partial to the summer code of cricket.
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