Vodacom Super Rugby
Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Big year starts for Smit
Johannesburg - John Smit will get to start his first match of the year on Friday but even at this embryonic stage of the season you could say that it is already clear what Sharks coach John Plumtree believes the Springbok management should be doing with the national captain.
Smit starts at tighthead prop in the Sharks’ fourth Super Rugby match of the season against the Melbourne Rebels at AAMI Park. Provided some mishap doesn’t befall him between now and kick-off, like it did on the eve of the opening match against the Cheetahs, it will be his first Super Rugby start of 2011.
Smit will wear the No 3 jersey in place of Jannie du Plessis, who moves to the bench for this game, and resumes a position which most critics felt didn’t really work out for him when he was switched there by Springbok coach Peter de Villiers for much of the 2009 rugby year.
But that is not really the point, for when Smit struggled at tighthead it was usually against smaller props, and in any event Plumtree is not saying that tighthead prop is Smit’s position. It will be recalled that Smit was down to play loosehead prop ahead of Beast Mtawarira before he was forced to pull out of the Cheetahs game three weeks ago with a calf strain.
In a pre-season interview Plumtree said he was excited about what Smit, who has improved his fitness and conditioning since last year, could offer the Sharks this year both as a player and a leader, and he predicted that he would show the Bok management how Smit should be used.
Considering that, if you factor in the pre-season friendly against the Lions where Smit started at hooker, Smit has now been selected for three different positions in what effectively amounts to three matches, you could say that the dye has been cast and Plumtree has confirmed what we suspected. Smit is going to be employed as a jack of all trades, a very good one at that, and in so doing will offer the teams he plays for enviable front-row options.
It’s important that Smit, now that he is finally over his injury niggle and get into the new season, builds up momentum, even if only to quiet the many critics that started asking questions of his suitability to lead the Springboks at World Cup during what turned out to be a bit of an annus horribilus for him during 2010.
The reality is that Smit is crucial to the Bok chances of World Cup success for most of the senior players will confirm that he is the glue that holds the side together and continues to be the unifying force that he was selected to be when Jake White first called him up to lead the side way back in 2004.
Even if he just plays 15 minutes in a game Smit has to be there as the recognised leader, the players who the others see as the man in charge. This pertains as much to the Boks off the field as on it, as in this time where there hasn’t been a strong disciplinarian in the management team, that the captain has fulfilled, and even has the respect of the coaching staff in that regard.
But while he arguably should be there to lead regardless of his form, there must still be on pressure on Smit to return to his best form as being accepted by the wider public and the critics on the basis of what he can still do on the field will smooth his path to New Zealand, and he must surely know that.
The Sharks team that Smit leads in their quest for a fourth consecutive victory and a second on tour includes three changes to the one that beat the Western Force 39-12 in Perth last week. Lwazi Mvovo replaces the injured JP Pietersen on the left wing, Smit is in for Du Plessis, and Ryan Kankowski, who was selected to start last week but didn’t start, is back in the No 8 jersey, with Jacques Botes dropping back to the bench.
Odwa Ndungane, carried off last week with concussion, has made enough of a recovery to make it into the starting team, with Adrian Jacobs returning on the bench for Mvovo.Teams
15. Louis Ludik, 14. Odwa
Ndungane, 13. Stefan Terblanche, 12. Meyer Bosman, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10.
Patrick Lambie, 9. Charl McLeod, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. Willem Alberts,
6. Keegan Daniel, 5. Alistair Hargreaves, 4. Steven Sykes, 3. John Smit
(captain), 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 1. Tendai Mtawarira
16. Craig Burden, 17. Jannie du Plessis, 18. Anton Bresler, 19. Jacques
Botes, 20. Conrad Hoffmann, 21. Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22. Adrian