Chance of greatness or bust for Bok captain

2011-10-07 00:00

You could say that the cat is finally out of the bag: with Smit’s selection as captain and hooker for the Springboks’ World Cup quarter-final against Australia on Sunday, coach Peter de Villiers will be considered by many to have confirmed finally that the 33-year-old really isn’t going to be a mere peripheral figurehead at the business end of the tournament.

All possibilities still exist for much of the group phase, with Smit and his younger Sharks team-mate, Bismarck du Plessis, experiencing both run-on and bench roles as the Boks finished difficult Pool D as winners.

Yet with many commentators still punting Du Plessis as possibly the best No. 2 on the planet and the understudy probably doing more than Smit during Bok combat thus far to impress in pure playing terms, there seems to be room for the captain to inspire his men from the bench or even a blazer in the grandstand — thus leaving Victor Matfield to do the main matchday leadership task he is well acquainted with.

It is certainly a route I favoured immediately before RWC and then even more resolutely after Du Plessis made a critical, late difference to the tottering cause in the close triumph over Wales.

Since then, though, give the ever-tenacious old guy his due: he has been picking up a good head of steam and going quite some way to allaying fears that he lacks the required dynamism for the Test job these days.

Smit ticks boxes in his complex head-to-head with Du Plessis, for instance at key basics like lineout throwing and scrummaging, even if the reserve remains routinely more prominent in general play and especially at effecting turnovers.

Just as importantly, both Smit and his many allies in the 2007 veterans department have mostly managed to persuade us all during the course of pool play that they do, indeed, possess a genuine, collective hunger for the elusive repeat quest.

Nor can Smit’s diplomatic and motivational skills be said to have waned – these are not things that disappear with age and they probably only get better.

It will be intriguing to see just how much game time Smit gets against the Aussies.

Whether the Springboks have their noses in front or not, there may be strong sense in Du Plessis getting as much of the second half as possible.

But for the moment John William Smit continues his march toward unprecedented achievement as a leader of rugby troops.

The chunky hooker will make his 111th Test appearance on Sunday, a superstitious, shivers-inducing figure to those partial to the summer code of cricket.

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