Johannesburg - The 2012 Super Rugby tournament has kicked-off without John Smit – and South Africa’s 2007 World Cup winning captain and hooker has no regrets about not being a part of it any more.
Smit has swopped the Sharks for the Saracens and, instead of another Super 15 campaign, the man who led his country a record 83 times, including the Test series win over the 2009 British & Irish Lions, is looking forward to a Heineken Cup quarterfinal showdown with big-spending French club ASM Clermont Auvergne at Vicarage Road, London, on Sunday 8 April.
“Am I missing the Super 15 – not at all,” said Smit, who won a national record 111th cap in the World Cup quarter-final Australia in Wellington last October.
“I am loving it here with Saracens. I have been made so welcome, and thankfully I have enjoyed my Heineken Cup matches with them so much more than my tournament debut for Clermont.
“It was against Munster in Limerick and it was horrible – we took virtually a B team and you can only say that on that occasion we had a really bad day in the office.”
That was one of three Heineken Cup appearances he made for Clermont in the 2007/08 campaign before returning to South Africa while this season he has appeared in five of Saracens’ Pool matches on the way to the last eight. And next up is his old club for a prestigious semifinal spot when they clash in the Heineken Cup quarterfinal.
“Clermont have phenomenal players and have great financial backing, they invariably use their money well and get just the right players who suit the club,” he said.
“They have an amazing structure from the academies up and the outstanding coaching staff are fully aware how developing players will fit into the squad.
“It is impossible to say who are their most dangerous players, they have so many of them, from captain Aurelien Rougerie, who is such a pillar of strength, to the likes of wing Julien Malzieu, back rower Julien Bonnaire to No 10 Brock James, who manages the game so well for them.
“What is so special about Clermont is the magnificent relationship between players and supporters, who pack the ground every weekend of a home match and are so passionate about the side being successful.
“From a player’s point of view that passion is a huge incentive to make every effort to help the team succeed and while the playing staff may have changed somewhat since I was there I know that the collective will to win will be just as strong with this squad as it was with the players four years ago.”
Clermont have won their last 11 home Heineken Cup matches since losing to Sale Sharks in the opening Pool match in 2008, which was just one of five defeats in 27 home tournament matches.
“It is a fair time since they were last beaten at home so it is great to have them coming to London for this massive match,” said Smit.
“And having won the Top 14 (French Championship) in 2010 will only make them all the more dangerous, they had such a long wait for that honour that was really was just about all they targeted in those seasons. I was in the team beaten 26-20 by Toulouse in the 2008 French final so I guess I left them just a bit early to be part of the squad that made club history.
“But now having got that first title with the 19-6 victory over Perpignan in 2010 they have widened their ambitions and it is not just the Top 14 any more – they want to win every tournament in which they play.
“It is fair to say they are now riding the crest of the wave and we know just how talented and dangerous a side we are up against in the quarters and that if we are to qualify for the semifinals how we will have to perform at our very best on the day.”