Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – John Smit’s loyalties are far likelier to rest
with the Sharks team he served for so long when they tackle Super Rugby rookies
the Kings in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, but the former Springbok captain
admires the bright start the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium outfit have made.
The veteran World Cup-winning skipper of 2007, who confirmed
he is in his final season with Saracens, is on a short visit to home turf and
was a guest on SuperSport’s weekly rugby show Boots & All on Thursday.
He is tipped to have a swansong year on the books of French
Versatile, 34-year-old front-ranker Smit said: “The
enthusiasm and effort level (of the Kings) lit up their game against the Force.
“If I saw that, as a Kings supporter, from the team every
week I would be pitching up to back them, regardless of the results they will
He did not deny that the Sharks would be strong favourites
for the Kings’ maiden experience of a South African conference derby, however:
“They probably have the most gifted personnel at the (scrum) set-piece of all
the SA teams.”
Smit said it was too early to judge the calibre of local
rugby this season, based on evidence from the tough but mostly unattractive and
error-strewn clash between the Sharks and Stormers in Durban last weekend.
“Whether there is much humidity around or not, this is a
horrible time of the year to play there – it is not so bad for the Sharks, who
have had their pre-season training in Durban, but opposing teams will almost
always say February and March are (largely undesirable) for rugby there.
“Handling (at Kings Park) will get better as the season
Speaking about the Bulls’ opening Australasian tour game
against the Blues – both sides unbeaten -- in Auckland on Sunday, Smit praised
the “natural leadership” Pierre Spies brings to the Pretoria-based team.
“I was interested when he said they may try to hang onto the
ball a bit more (at Eden Park).
“Without injured Bjorn Basson, they don’t want to hand over
possession to the Blues too easily if not able to have their best kick-chase
“I think they realise you cannot have to make too many
tackles in your first match since the flight over (to New Zealand).”
Smit said it was difficult comparing franchise rugby between
the northern and southern hemispheres.
“It’s apples versus pears. Climate comes into it a lot ...
in snow or mud you are not going to be tossing about double skip passes and the
“It is a cultural change. There is a huge amount of
attention to detail from a coaching point of view (in England).
“Small things, up-skilling ... there’s an accountability as
well, as far as individual players are concerned.”
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing