Boks face big dilemma at No 2

2011-08-22 16:57

Brenden Nel - SuperSport

Johannesburg - The Springboks will head off to New Zealand next week knowing full well that at some stage they have to deal with the elephant in the room.

Click to BUY John Smit’s Captain in the Cauldron book

That elephant - the one they’re all ignoring of course - is the simmering issue of just who will start at hooker for the defending champions in the World Cup.

Bismarck du Plessis’s performance on the weekend underlined the fact that the gulf between him and any other hooker in this country is as huge as a country mile. Not only is he the classic loose forward at the moment, but whenever he took the ball up on Saturday he was stopped by two or three All Black players.

Du Plessis also fulfils the role of another fetcher, and on Saturday more than once pilfered ball from the All Blacks, underlining just how important he is to the Springbok cause at the moment.

Just how much an issue it is at the moment, and how sensitive it can become to the Springbok cause was seen on Saturday when after a magnificent hour, Du Plessis was yanked off the park, clearly not happy with proceedings.

Nor should he have been. There are few coaches that would have taken off a player in such form, few coaches who would have even contemplated the move.

But it seemed that it was a predestined move, one which had been discussed earlier in the week and which was kept to by the coaching staff.

The problem is, with a World Cup tournament that is often won or lost on the slimmest margins, the hooker situation has the potential to blow up in the management’s faces if it is not handled right.

Du Plessis laughed it off after the game, admitting he wasn’t happy at coming off.

“I was enjoying myself out there, and any player who is playing well wants to stay on the field,” he smiled.

His face may have hid a lot more than he was prepared to say, and it again underlined the biggest problem. Do the Boks continue with a captain who is clearly not the best in his position, or rather play a player most people would rate as the best in the world?

All this is a bit unfair to Smit in a way. He is a fabulous captain, one of the best in rugby history. He is well-respected and a great ambassador for the country. And normally, in any other situation, he would easily walk into a national team.

But the stark reality is that Smit is not at his best form as a player. He was moved around a front row at the Sharks and attempts by both his province and the national team to make him a prop looked woefully exposed at times.

Without even looking at the scrum debacle of Durban, Smit had an average game. He made seven tackles and missed three. He could make it over the gain line only 40 percent of his ball carries, and gained a total of 17 metres. While Du Plessis didn’t have to make many tackles in his short stay at the end of the game, he did make 34 metres in his six runs, which certainly made an impression.

Now take Port Elizabeth, where Bismarck put in seven tackles, missed none and made 31 metres in his eight runs, many of which created momentum for the Boks to go forward. Smit’s 20 minutes see stats of 4 tackles made, two missed, and just one metre gained. The difference is stark.

Even if the stats don’t tell the full story, those calling for Smit to be left at home are missing the point. He is an integral part of the Bok tapestry and to go without him would be suicide.

However, how the Boks decide to manage the system, which is becoming more and more of an issue with every Test, could well determine their World Cup success.

And until they acknowledge and deal with the elephant in the room, they will face a growing number of questions that could distract them from their World Cup goal.


  • Gerhard - 2011-08-22 17:14

    I personally would take John Smit with on a consultancy basis as his experience and leadership will help the team even if he is not on the field. Will the bok management consider such a bold move though? I doubt it. Mr. de Villiers seems very set in his ways and reluctant to make any major changes, just look at his stubbornness when it comes to picking players out of form, when there are clearly better alternatives waiting to be unearthed. Idon't know, but my support will be behind the Boks 100% even if I don't agree with everything the coach does. Last weekend definitely gave me a glimmer of hope.

      Joe_Public - 2011-08-22 17:25

      Rightly or wrongly, Smit is going to the World Cup. The press is just harping on about the issue to get reponses from the public. Why is everyone jumping up and down for something that we already know the answer to? Sure Bismarck is good. But he plays as a loose forward. Smit plays as a classic hooker. Bismarck plays to the ball. Smit plays off the ball. Bismarck carries the ball more. Smit throws better at lineouts. They are different players. Smit is captain. He is going to the world cup. Live with it.

      call a spade - 2011-08-22 18:02

      Joe Public I agree. Smit will mean a lot off then field by way of handling the press conferences sharing his experience and keep things together.Press conferences do not win world cups but if handled wrong a lot of pressure will be on the team and surely the Kiwis will push this knowing that PdV is not good at that. And cometh the moment Bismarck will take the field. So be it.

      2012 - 2011-08-22 18:13

      in other starting with Bissie....we are forced to have another starting correct me if i'm wrong....the main reason to take John Smit is for his captain by Matfield taking over.....what exactly is Smit's purpose???

      Taetjo - 2011-08-22 19:06

      I do not know why people are even comparing the two. lol! It is clear, Bismarck is by far the better option. John Smit must bow out gracefully! He is finished goods. When last did he actually win a game as a Captain?

      TshepoTheGreat - 2011-08-22 19:20

      bismark must play 80 minutes he is the man he is the chief he is the ultimate warrior and john smit is simply not the ultimate warrior as simple as that.... smit must respect nature and his new social order man up and get on with it now.....

      2012 - 2011-08-22 20:28

      are we going to be the only team at the World Cup...with our Captain sitting on the bench??!! Should they decide to start with Bismarck.....that means that Smit won't be captain, Matfield will be........pointless!?? Should they start with Smit, to be subbed not too long into the match....we are left with out our captain yet again!!?? Matfield is the only certain Starter Captain Available!!! SA Rugby will have the same regret like they did with Teichman.......only this time they should have done so!!

  • Sbuda - 2011-08-22 17:14

    Refreshing article for a change on this matter. The John Smit-Bismarck has been going on forever and one thing is clear; John is going to the world cup. Both players have had a thing or two to say on the field (well Bisy actually had a lot to say and Smit has no answers) and it's obvious for everybody to see who should be playing. Hopefully PDV can devise a plan quickly to utilize JS cause this thing has shown it can be a disaster for the BOKS. I will never forget the look on Bisy face when he was taken off, I'm sure the post match celebrations were not joyous

      odysseus - 2011-08-23 14:54

      Agreed... where this could really come back to bite us is when the game is going to the wire, and Smit gets his token appearance with 20 to could be catastrophic to the outcome, and I just hope we never find ourselves in this situation....

  • BlueRaven - 2011-08-22 17:14

    I fail to see the dilemma... John Smit must go. Over rated player, over rated captain, in fact he is the anchor that prevents the ship from sailing

      Bulldozer - 2011-08-22 18:49

      It's only a dilemma for the AA coach.

      Andrew Brady - 2011-08-22 21:39

      Brilliantly stated BlueRaven. Smit is blackmailing a coach with not much backbone. A classic case of the tail wagging the dog. Everybody can rave about Smit as a good captain, but in my eyes Vic has been the better man for years!

      jk - 2011-08-23 10:24

      raven- you fail to say something that make sence...

      Tools1 - 2011-08-23 10:43

      @ jk if it isnt Mr Prediction. What happened to "Stormers by 8 with a bonus point" and "the Bokke are going to lose."

      BlueRaven - 2011-08-23 10:51

      jk you fail to amuse me

      Shark-Chic - 2011-08-23 11:42

      There is a dillemma?

      Shark-Chic - 2011-08-23 11:45

      Hey there "j i'm never wrong k" are you doing? Any predictions for me for this weekend?

  • Ian Cornelius - 2011-08-22 17:17

    The only role left for John Smit is to give a motivational talk to the team at half time when they go into the change room. That 10 minutes is probably where he will make the biggest contribution to the springboks, not on the field at the expense of Bismarck.

  • Amer - 2011-08-22 17:17

    Bismark should start in all the big games. The question is who should be on the bench; we need someone like Chiliboy who can make an the impact in the last 20 minutes or so.

      BlueRaven - 2011-08-22 17:19

      Anybody except John

      TshepoTheGreat - 2011-08-22 19:32

      bismark can play more than 60 minutes.... bismark can play 80 minutes easily!!!

  • Riaan - 2011-08-22 17:20

    In this situation I think what they did saturday when Bismarck started and played the first 60 and then have John Smit come on for the last 20min is probably the best solution... Bissie is way to valluable and wont have the same impact on the game when playing only 20min. Now my question is this... How much will his leadership help the team when he only comes to captain the team the last20? In a WC final won't it do more harm than good to change your captain in the crucial stages of the game? Wont he do more for the team from a management tipe of role???

      BlueRaven - 2011-08-22 17:25

      Riaan how much did his leadership help in the past 2 years?

      Amer - 2011-08-22 17:32

      We can't afford Smit on the field in a tight game ; not even for the last 5 minutes.

  • Boxxer - 2011-08-22 17:29

    Bismark was only but shaking his head when he was substituted!

  • gatvol4corru - 2011-08-22 17:51

    The sad thing is,there are at least 3-4 better players than Smit which will not be afforded the opportunity to play for SA. Smit is way beyond his sell-by date. If he was an AB or wallaby,he would stay at home,based on his slow performance and pathetic work-rate. Bu the,.we have a CLOWN for a coach,..need we say more?

  • Bokmad - 2011-08-22 17:55

    The problem here is the Coach - both players have something to offer, but the coach has not been able to use them correclty or communicate how he plans to use them. Bis is by far the best hooker in the world at the moment and his physicality will be a great influence at the WC. But anybody who plays the way he does, does not go for too long before they get injured. We are coming up against some real butchers in our group stages - teams that we will probably beat, but they could leave us with a heavy body count (Wales, Samoa and Namibia) - Let Smit play for 60 for sam and nam and bring Bis in to finish off. In the other games let Bis start and Div needs to play what's in front of him - not what he scripted before the game. Decide at 60 if it is time for Bis to come off and Smit to go on. We would not want to get to the knock outs and have Bis in a sling. On a seperate note, I understand Bis's reaction on Saturday but he was wrong to react the way he did - we've all been there, you don't argue, when the coach calls you in - you come in.

      WIllie Botha - 2011-08-23 14:26

      Totally agree with you! Smit and Bismarck can both contribute!

  • christie.kleingeld - 2011-08-22 17:57

    What happend to playing the best man for the job ?????????

      kosie - 2011-08-23 09:22

      it went out the door when they created BEE

  • 2012 - 2011-08-22 18:05

    in other starting with Bissie....we are forced to have another starting correct me if i'm wrong....the main reason to take John Smit is because he is the by Matfield taking over.....what is his purpose???

  • Stox - 2011-08-22 18:16

    "Going without him would be suicide..." So what happens when he retires after the WC? Will SA rugby explode and go into a recession the likes of which the world has never seen? All this talk about how the team will explode without Smit is strange. I think we needed to bleed in a new captain a year ago. Like Smith or someone. Bismarck really is vital to the team and a full 80 mins from him is needed.

      PERSONA NON GRACA - 2011-08-23 09:57

      Let's do the suicide thing. Can we take Ollie and make it a double? Whacky World Cup!

  • So What If.. - 2011-08-22 18:55

    @ 2012. Agreed! Perfect solution to the problem. Matfield is as good, if not better, a captain. Take John as an off the field member, with both Bismarch and Matfield as players.

      2012 - 2011-08-22 21:13

      are we going to be the only team at the World Cup...with our Captain sitting on the bench??!! Should they decide to start with Bismarck.....that means that Smit won't be captain, Matfield will be........pointless!?? Should they start with Smit, to be subbed not too long into the match....we are left with out our captain yet again!!?? Matfield is the only certain Starter Captain Available!!! SA Rugby will have the same regret like they did with Teichman.......only this time they should have done so!!

  • Ronel - 2011-08-22 19:20

    i feel that smit is past his sell buy date as player so i don`t know why does he do the right thing and retire himself then if he needs to go snorre can take him along as a scrum ghoeroe as os is not there anymore so he will go to the world cup then you can play the best players

  • ChrisW - 2011-08-22 19:37

    Put him on the coaching staff, there's always room for one more......

  • Christo - 2011-08-22 19:42

    u have to have your head examined if u replace the best hooker in world rugby with the 4 th best hooker in s.a.The 2 players i will not replace against the all blacks is Bismark and Heinrich Brussouw.Victor is a better captain than John.Why take John with?H e would definitely not have the support of the players if he plays like he does at the moment.

      thyspelser - 2011-08-23 09:03

      Christo, 99% correct, one correction though, Smit is more number 9 rated as hooker from all SA hookers: Bismarck, Chilli, Strauss, Liebenberg, Fourie, Maku, Britz, other Strauss, etc, are better suited for the fast, modern game where the hooker also HAVE to contribute outside scrums and putting the ball into lineouts. Make Smit a consultant and select a true contributor for the playing field.

  • Chris - 2011-08-22 19:44

    John Smit is the best captain this country has seen. He WILL be at the World Cup. Live with it and get behind him. Continually encouraging this hooker debate from the media's side, and the futile arguments put in response thereto plays into the hands of the enemy. Grow up, get behind our boys and focus on the positives so that they get the feeling that we are united behind them. Not many people would be able to cope with some of the bile that spills from so-called Bok supporters.

      Christo - 2011-08-22 20:25

      The way the coaching staff replaces players might cost us the world cup.U just dont replace a player who is having a cracker of a game like Bismark or Heinrich Brussouw on Saterday.U only replace your hooker if he is not playing well ,injured or not finding his locks or if u miles ahaid and cant loose the game any more.

  • t1mothybeaton - 2011-08-22 20:36

    Funny how the quota thing only applies to non whites, smith does not deserve to be there he should go. Liebenberg or even adriaan strauss should be picked in his place. What if bissie is injured, would we really be happy to play with smith. If he was not on the park against the aussies we would have won, Their scrum would have been anihilated and we would have scored more points. The difference in our packs performance this week is ample proof of that. Why should that fat unfit slob be given preferential treatment! why?

      Ozman - 2011-08-23 01:13

      Smit is the coach at the end of the day, mate!!!

  • George Bruyen - 2011-08-22 20:49

    "Even if the stats don’t tell the full story, those calling for Smit to be left at home are missing the point. He is an integral part of the Bok tapestry and to go without him would be suicide.". What idiocy in writing. When last did JS contribute anything with his so-called leadership? Even as recently as the game in Durban against the Ausies he showed that he does not even contribute on that front anymore. His so called indespensible leadership is a myth created by you idiotic sports writers. His team mates don't believe it and we rugby supporters sure as hell don't buy it any more. What is most laughable is that some of you Rugby writers even suggest that he must lead from the sidelines. What game have you been following all these years because I cannot see the IRB changing the laws to allow for a player on the bench to run onto the field every now and then to pep talk the team or to charm the ref.

  • Armchair critic - 2011-08-22 21:01

    Bismarck: 1 hr = 7 tackles & Smit: 20 min = 4 tackles... stark difference indeed. Bismarck: lineouts poor & often off the mark & Smit: lineouts spot on. Let's stop moaning and wait and see what is instore... It is good for Bismarck to play his heart out and do well, especially if he can control his temper and don't cost a hat full of penalties. He sure knows who to impress, be warned. Sharks supporter

      Maarten - 2011-08-22 21:45

      Only a Shark supporter would spout such utter twadle! You forgot to mention that with Bismark we dominated the NZ scrum. As soon as you hero came on, our srum went into reverse. John Smit is a has been. Deal with it!

      Andrew - 2011-08-22 21:51

      Give us all the numbers, balls stolen, balls slowed down, yards gained. Frankly I did not see any impact when Smit came on as an impact player. Don't just give one stat give the whole picture for us to evaluate. What value did John add to the game when he came on? So many supporters confuse the head with the heart. The heart says John the head says Bissie. Bissie played his heart out, had plenty left in the tank and was then subbed. why?

  • Cillié - 2011-08-22 21:12

    Bismarck Should play. He is Better, Have no injuries, and seems alot fitter. John Smit doesn't set a good example any more. Well done Victor. You are still here and guide the bokke well saturday

  • Bandleader - 2011-08-22 21:50

    In 1999, captaincy controversy caused us to lose the RWC. Captain Teichmann was left out for injured but brilliant Skinstad, which proved a disastrous decision. Player controversy and Kamp Staaldraad did us in at RWC 2003. If the Smit/Bismarck issue is not handled well, it may be the (further?) undoing of the RWC 2011 campaign.

      Makutu - 2011-08-23 08:42

      Gary Teichman wouldn't have stopped that freakish drop goal we lost by.

  • Jerome Flemmer - 2011-08-22 22:26

    Bismarck hang in there, you will get game time in NZ, and in November there will be no John Smith...No 2 will be all yours...and then you can share with Chilliboy from time to time...

  • Ozman - 2011-08-22 23:21

    No Mate, Smit is past he's prime.....if Smit was a good captain surly he will have the team’s best interest at hand and make way for the better player at the end of the day national pride is at stake and should set precedence.

  • Chris in Oz - 2011-08-23 01:03

    A real coach will know that this should not even be an issue. Smit to stay at home, Bismarck starting and Matfield captain.

  • Marius - 2011-08-23 05:11

    I live in New Zealand and everybody is saying that the issue is playing into the AB's hands. AB's recon that the World Cup is staying in NZ because of the SA coach and Captain at the forefront of the Bokke. Smit will not stand down and he can be assured he will not receive a worm welcome in NZ. Other SA supporters are already talking about banners that state "Smit go back to SA" Well, we will see how this issue pan out in the end. Smit can become the most hated player in SA Rugby real quick if SA does not make it.

      Chris in Oz - 2011-08-23 09:14

      Same here in Oz. The Wallaby supporters are only too happy to have Div and Smit leading the team. And if you look at Bismarck's reaction on Saturday it seems as if Smit's not so popular in the team anymore either. Smit will be one of the key players who will loose this WC for the Boks.

  • ikey_tiger - 2011-08-23 05:24

    Smit has had a truly amazing career and I have loads of respect for him. However.. Out of all the Tri-nations games played, we won only one.. And that was the only one where he wasnt captain.. so.. is he in the squad due to his captaincy, or due to what he has achieved in the past?

  • Ron87 - 2011-08-23 06:19

    Whilst I agree that Bismark adds more value as a player, I would not be at all surprised if he was left out of the touring squad for a lack of sportsmanship. Nobody leaves the field with a crybaby face like that when you are substituted, and then claims to be a team player. Nobody is bigger than the game.

  • Mike - 2011-08-23 07:25

    I would make Victor captain and still take Smit as back up hooker and the experience he can add to the squad. You have to pick a captain that is going to start or it is too disrupting. Franscois Pienaar was not the best flank in 1995 WC but he was still near the top of game and had more to offer. I am a great fan of JS but sadly he needs to step down for the greater glory of the team.What a great player to have on the bench / backup. Sorry John but I think your time is up

  • BreakdownBoy - 2011-08-23 07:30

    I have always supported Smit, but his leadership is no longer masking his lack of speed strength and all round ball skills. He is not even fit enough to play 80 minutes anymore. Matfield is a good leader and should be allowed to captain the boks.

  • sportsmadwilly - 2011-08-23 08:19

    The mere fact that we as a forum are even debating and worrying about two Hookers instead of the talent getting left behind is beyond me. Bismarck is our number one, however no2 can be filled by two even better players than John Smit, one being Adrian Strauss(classic hooker) and no2 being Schalk Britz.The fact that players are being played because of experience and not whether they are good enough or not is mesmarising.

  • Claude - 2011-08-23 09:50

    If Smit was the leader everyone says he is then he would have stepped aside from the Bok captaincy months ago - now it is too late he has to go but he should not start. It will be interesting to see how this situation is managed - if de Villiers is to salvage anything from his abysmal stint as head coach this is where he can do it.

  • Lance - 2011-08-23 10:09

    Let John be our "20 minute man"....When all are tired he can then look pretty ok out there. That way Bismarck will know he can give 110% for 60 minutes.

  • BB - 2011-08-23 14:21

    One thing I know...............John Smit has been a HUGE force for our country, in all aspects, and deserves respect. Time and time again, he bled for the Boks, always bloodied and bruised. Opinions are one thing, insulting a great Springbok such as Smit is quite another.

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