Smit stirs from his slumber

2011-04-23 22:18

Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town - On another weekend that wasn’t a particularly distinguished one for the under-pressure Springbok “old guard”, at least one of them showed fairly healthy signs of reinvigoration.

And that man was the 2007 World Cup-winning captain, John Smit: the 33-year-old utility front-ranker certainly played his honest part as the Sharks progressively warmed to their task and earned a bonus-point Super Rugby victory over the Hurricanes (40-24) in Durban on Saturday.

The slightly embattled campaigner had a rare start at hooker - coach John Plumtree’s generally more favoured Bismarck du Plessis got a full rest from the match-day 22 - and not only contributed a bullocking personal try but also came to light to a welcome extent in other facets of play.

Unease around the ongoing tenure of Smit as national captain for the Tri-Nations and then 2011 World Cup has been reflected in SARU’s decision to name their captain at a two-day enlarged Bok squad camp on May 1 and 2, rather than let the public assume (or, indeed, officially know) yet that the incumbent remains their favoured option at the tiller.

The whisper remains that Smit will crack the nod anyway, and he chose a good time on Saturday, as the Sharks dotted five tries to two in an ultimately satisfying win, to remind both friend and foe that his ageing frame still has some gas left to burn – at least for the critical next few months.

Of course there is no guarantee that, on the day, Smit would have necessarily eclipsed the absent Du Plessis, who has been consistently industrious and classy in the No 2 shirt this season.

But at least he stuck up his hand and basically announced: "I can still play a bit in that spot too."

Smit mostly did his basics well, showed good bursts of leg-drive, helped significantly in the Sharks’ robust “offensive defence” at breakdowns where staple elements like Beast Mtawarira and Willem Alberts also ticked boxes, and provided invaluable brawn at the set scrums.

It will be fascinating to see, based on evidence from this game, how Plumtree plays his front row cards as the Sharks now turn their attention to a huge, revenge-focussed showdown with the Stormers at Newlands next Saturday.

It is a case of “one meets two” in the South African conference, with the Stormers presently leading by three points (37 to 34) from their coastal rivals after banking their own four bye points on Saturday.

Schalk Burger's side do still enjoy a game in hand, but the Sharks could replace the leaders at the top of the table if they win, and will be fully aware that the Stormers must yet embark on their four-match overseas tour.

Sadly for defending champions the Bulls, they are now almost certainly also-rans this year, after crashing to a sickening third successive defeat and fifth in total in their final tour match against the Force in Perth, after leading at halftime.

"We have to win everything back home if we are to stand any chance (of staying in the race)," captain Victor Matfield admitted after the 26-21 setback.

The likeliest scenario now is that the Bulls will be potentially destructive "nuisance value" against the two superior South African franchises - they must still play the Sharks twice and Stormers once more at Newlands.

Whether they are definite also-rans by then or not, the Bulls are hardly going to play willing easy-beats in those three derbies, in a time-honoured SA tradition.

Of ongoing concern from a national perspective was that several of the Pretoria-based team’s senior Springbok troops, unlike Smit on a different battlefield, continued to look glaring yards off the pace against the limited Force.

Bakkies Botha was again substituted notably early (the 49th minute) after hardly setting the world alight with his work-rate or fire, Matfield’s aura as a lineout dominator suffered strange further erosion, and Pierre Spies produced another palpably incomplete showing at No 8, including defensive and handling lapses.

It is true that Botha and Spies, in particular, did provide some largely unsung leg-power in a few promising mauling moves by the Bulls, but they fell well short overall of reminding those watching that they are meant to be seasoned, feared internationals.

And then there is Fourie du Preez - the once-unmatched Bok scrumhalf always does some good things, and there is still nothing wrong with the range on his pass, but his recent error-prone streak goes on and there were times when he was just not at his post quite as quickly as the cause demanded.

Thank heavens, then, for the small mercy provided by old soldier Smit this weekend ...

Next round of Super Rugby matches (home teams first):

Friday: Highlanders v Blues, Cheetahs v Brumbies. Saturday: Hurricanes v Reds, Waratahs v Rebels, Force v Crusaders, Bulls v Chiefs, Stormers v Sharks.


  • guy.hankinson - 2011-04-23 23:24

    sharks for the win

      ChumScrubber - 2011-04-24 07:48

      You related to Rob Hankinson, the ex Natal player?

      WPBEFONK - 2011-04-24 09:33

      Whoever, can say WHATEVER he is currently the 5th BEST Hooker in SA behind Bismarck, Tiaan, Deon Fourie, Strauss, Smith

  • majordad.007 - 2011-04-23 23:43

    The rules need some re-considering. One person (Nonu) gets a yellow for apparently hands in; then one Hurricanes player is carried off after the skipper and scrummie bailed into the ruck, after he had recovered the ball. One down, 14 to go. The rule calls for binding hands first then the shove; Bakkies seems to have reincarnated. The injurious play is un-punished, just wait until someone gets it in the neck literally. Dickenson made a decision correctly that the Hurricanes prop held onto a jersey where the player was not even in position to contribute and once the injured played was removed turned the penalty around and indicated it was in front of the posts rather than on the 10m, 5 from the sideline. Not bound, or behind the last mans feet with players dragging opposition players away from the point of breakdown, then walking back to an off-side position is not punished. The opposition need to pass the ball to the offside player and get some more penalties, then win the game, as we don't appear to have a dependable kicker. The ref needs only to blow a couple of "loose" forwards who have broken off the scrum and hang on by the pants, as well as the the "dummy" runs allowing the player to run behind his own shield and then make a break. I am just curious when it comes to the rules interpretation for obstruction, and continual infringement. One warning and then penalise, clean the game up. Otherwise the Sharks did win with some great play.

      Henry - 2011-04-24 02:20

      I agree with the joining of the ruck. Players get blown up for going down onto other players but sometimes you are allowed to fly rigt over the ruck. Ref's do also not know what last feet means.

      boerinkwd - 2011-04-24 15:30

      what tees me off big time, is the 'talks' the ref of that particular match have with the respective teams prior to the game - where he discusses how HE sees the rules and laws of the game....WTF??? This means Professional Rugby Refereeing has been left to the Opinion and Interpretation of the rules by the Ref of the day!!?? The rules are written in black and white - for all to read and understand well before they reach this level of professional rugby! As far as I know the rule book no where instructs Referees to decide how they will enforce which rules....just think of line out throws, put-ins at scrums as well entering the ruck-area...its pathetic how differently its controlled by the Refs....BUT LIKE WE SAW YESTERDAY PRIOR TO THE SHARKS MATCH - DICKENSON HAVING A MEETING WITH THE SHARKS FRONT ROW - to tell how he reads and understands the rules!!!

      Christopher - 2011-04-24 21:45

      the ref has the meeting with the captains and front rows because it's not possible for him to enforce every rule, if he did there would be a PENALTY AT EVERY SINGLE RUCK. have you ever seen a rugby rule book? or reffed a real game? In that meeting with the front rows he tells the guys what he expects and what he won't tolerate it's basically the same thing every game.

  • Jamiside - 2011-04-24 00:04

    I do not like John Smit, but I must admit he played a very good game tonight. Even though the Hurricanes are not strong competition, the Sharks still had to play to win and they did it well. Well done Sharks, from a Stormer Supporter!!

      brinjal - 2011-04-24 01:41

      Do you know him personally that you do not like him?

      burtfred - 2011-04-24 08:20

      I am also a Stormer supporter. I have had the pleasure of meeting John Smit and he appears to be a very nice person to know. He is not half bad at playing rugby either. If you ever do meet him, you might understand why his teammates love him as captain.

      Rob Rabbit - 2011-04-24 12:03

      How can anybody not like John Smit? You may think he is not up to it as a player {big maybe} But not like the man who has been such a fine ambassador fort he game and the land is mind blowing.

      donkerhond - 2011-04-24 13:28

      I agree. I think the main reason why people always blast away at John Smit's form is because we all really WANT him to do well. It's the same case with Bryan Habana. It's not because we think they're k*k and we hate them. It's because we just feel disappointed and let down when they don't perform. It has a positive effect on people when someone like the Springbok captain does well and I for one felt good when he scored a try and you can see his teammates were celebrating for him a bit more than the try itself. Also a Stormer supporter.

      Russell - 2011-04-25 06:26

      John Smit was awesome today. Played in his best position and let us not forget that it was this half brained SA coach that moved John Smit from hooker to prop. This has been detrimental to his game. Leave him at hooker and let him flourish again. Bismarck can be super sub for the world cup. We need a leader who leads by example. If Matfield is named captain, then SA rugby is in trouble. I purposely watched both Matfield and Smit during their games and Smit got involved while Matfield stood off waiting. Matfield lacks a work rate, while Smit is always looking for work.

  • sannahan - 2011-04-24 01:11

    Div is in a tiff. He does not have the guts to play Schalk or Jean as captain, therefore the best hooker and one of the best "loose forwards" in the world aka Bismarck will play short bursts from the bench. Smit play well. but is NOT in the same bracket as Bismarck. Btw, why don't you have a decent article on Alberts, once again? This man is immense and we would surely be the laughing stock at the RWC if he is played of the bench. There is no way that Spies or Vermeulen can be compared with him!

      Henry - 2011-04-24 02:16

      Hi sannaham. Bismarck is the only S.A.player that's the best in the world in his position. We can not afford it play him on the bench. It seems that Spies has improved. I've counted one movement where he made 4 yards. Great improvement for a player with so many muscles.I have change him from 1 yard wonder to 4 yard wonder.

      Martin - 2011-04-24 07:49

      Matfield and all the other Springbok locks, looks common in their teams but the moment Smit does the throwing in, into the lineouts, they turn into the best jumpers in the world. We steal most of the balls with Smit, so he should play. Bismarck must still learn how to throw straight - not best in the world.

      The Odd One Too - 2011-04-24 08:18

      Rubbish. Bismarck is the most over-rated player in the world. Can't retain the ball, can't throw properly, always giving away penalties. Smit is a better hooker than him.

      burtfred - 2011-04-24 08:22

      Bismarck is a good player, but tends to lose his head and give away penalties. I still choose Smit as Bok hooker, for his consistency and leadership.

  • Walter - 2011-04-24 07:30

    Anyone watching the game at Kings Park would have seen the pressure that the Sharks came under for 2/3rds of the match. They were definitely on the back foot and brave defensive play kept the "Canes" from scoring a number of times. However, Smitty showed how invaluable he is as skipper. There's been much criticsm of late that he is beyond his sell-by date etc etc. However, he played a major role in leading his men and showing that he still, very much, has it in him. Bobby Skinstad and the rest of the Boots and All team were quite correct when they pleaded that the public must not pre-judge Smitty's performance months before the world cup. Even if is used off the bench, he will be invaluable when the chips are down! There is no-one better to stir up the troops.

  • haha - 2011-04-24 08:37

    Why is all the rugbycommentators and news writers blowing smoke up John Smits ass? I don't think he had a bad game, but would the Sharks have lost if he didn't play? (NO) If he did play but wasn't the Captain would the Sharks have lost? (NO). If Bismarck is the better hooker then he should get to wear the Sharks and Bok jersey. I don't think John Smit is consistent in his performances. The Bokke will win more games if they have the 15 best players in their position compared to having the 14 best and one 3rd best player that's a good Captain..

      Russell - 2011-04-25 16:00

      but we are not even playing the best 14 players in the bok side anyway. so why not have the "3rd best player" as captain? If you look at the other teams around the world, most seem to have a solid center combination, as well as loose trios and full backs. whereas we are struggling in those departments.

      Met Uysh! - 2011-04-26 12:21

      Not consistent you say? To which game are you comparing this past one to? I mean, which one of the 8 he played at prop instead of hooker? How can you measure consistency if he has only played one game at hooker?

  • thyspelser - 2011-04-24 09:12

    Well if not finding line out jumpers, not involved on the fringes of the rucks, standing on outside centre and opening the gap for the 1ste try, (weak Chief side and 14 men at times), is a good show, the Boks are in serious trouble.

  • sessisie - 2011-04-24 10:00

    Please get rid of Smit - 2011-04-24 22:00

      Get rid of sessisie Dumb ass

  • coenie.koch - 2011-04-24 11:23

    Too many of the Bulls so-called top players has their minds set on the big bucks waiting in Europe and France end of season. They are therefore just hanging in there... waiting for their contracts to expire, and then it is bye - bye Bulls and S.A.

      Marcell - 2011-04-24 11:33

      Well said.

  • Anna - 2011-04-24 12:29

    Well done John. You did well Saturday. Keep it up.

  • Dicey - 2011-04-24 15:20

    The media is causing huge damage to SA sport by adding pressure to individual players, & unfortunately most people believe what they read or hear, so they repeat the same stories like sheeple. A few facts. The world cup is months away Sportsmen will peak just once in a season A peak doesnt last 6 months Maybe we should accept that some of our top players wont be in top form for the Super 15 because they are working to a different schedule ... one that will hopefully see them at their best for the World Cup. If that is a sacrifice that they, the teams, the sponsors, etc can make ... perhaps the journos & fans can make some sacrifices on short term & short sighted expectation?

  • boerinkwd - 2011-04-24 15:31

    what tees me off big time, is the 'talks' the match ref has with the respective teams prior to the game - where he discusses how HE sees the rules and laws of the game....WTF??? This means Professional Rugby Refereeing has been left to the Opinion and Interpretation of the rules by the Ref of the day!!?? The rules are written in black and white - for all to read and understand well before they reach this level of professional rugby! As far as I know the rule book no where instructs Referees to decide how they will enforce which rules....just think of line out throws, put-ins at scrums as well entering the ruck-area...its pathetic how differently its controlled by the Refs....BUT LIKE WE SAW YESTERDAY PRIOR TO THE SHARKS MATCH - DICKENSON HAVING A MEETING WITH THE SHARKS FRONT ROW - to tell how he reads and understands the rules!!!

  • Werner Geere - 2011-04-24 19:54

    John is the only man (Captain) fit enough to lead the boks to winning the 2011 RWC. Read his book and remember 2007 for a second. He's hugely influential, something dearly needed in a time where players and coach alike needs some strong guidance and focus! GO Smity!

  • boerinkwd - 2011-04-25 05:36

    @ Christopher...please dont assume I am speaking out and raising my opinion on a subject I dont know....there is simply too much money, sponsors, etc at stake for Refs to decide (as you put it) which rules they will focus on more than others...Rugby is about the game itself and the players - the ref should have a background role to play (which we see in some matches where the job gets done very well). But there remain way to much inconsistancy considering teh refs all use the same rule book. Its time the IRB makes sure Refs concentrate more on what is written down as rules,,,and not about 'how they see it or how they want to enforce it'.

  • Kevin - 2011-04-25 09:49

    There is only one captain who is capable of making us win the world cup and it is John Smith.Victor Matfied should do the right thing and retire . Well done on Saturday John . You were a star and your team loved having you leading from the front.

  • Anneleen - 2011-04-26 10:39

    GREAT comeback SHARKS-from being 13 each at half-time...GO SHARKS & THE SHARK-TANK!!!!!!!!!!

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