Happier, organised Sharks better than last year, says Smit

2008-10-14 00:00

JOHN Smit, the Springboks’ World Cup-winning captain, is convinced the current Sharks are stronger, happier and better organised than they were last year when they reached the Super 14 final.

Smit, who returned to the Sharks late last month after an extended injury break, says he is delighted with the improvement in the squad.

“It’s been interesting to watch the Sharks this season, first as an outsider and then coming into the team late in the Currie Cup season,” he said yesterday.

“I left the team in pretty good shape last year and came back wondering what I would experience. But the environment has improved and management has done a great job.”

The Sharks ended the Currie Cup season on top of the log and will host the final against the Blue Bulls on October 25.

“The off-field improvement is paying dividends,” he said. “The squad is a close-knit group and I found it easy to come in. Whether I have been playing off the bench or starting (the game), captaining or not captaining, it’s been easy. There are no egotistical elements in the squad.”

One of the awkward choices facing head coach John Plumtree is whether to change a winning unit by involving Smit from the start — as hooker and captain — or, as seems likely, staying with the winning team and playing him off the bench with Bismarck du Plessis in the front-row and Johann Muller completing the Currie Cup campaign as captain.

“The least of my worries is whether I start or not,” said Smit.

“I had a complicated injury and it was fixed well. I was only supposed to start this week, but with some incredibly hard work with rehab, it has been a bonus what I’ve done already.

“I’d be foolish to expect anything in terms of starting or anything. I’m here to play any role the coach has for me.”

Turning to the looming Currie Cup final, Smit said the Sharks and Bulls would only know on October 25 whether the fortnight’s break between the semi-finals and the final helped or hindered their preparations.

“I’m sure the team that loses will say it was bad for them while the winners will say it was beneficial.”

He said there was no secret to winning finals.

“I have been in a number of different finals and sometimes you do the same things but without the same outcome. A final depends less on individuals and more on the environment that is functioning in the team.

“In the finals that have gone for me (such as the 2007 World Cup final) we were working towards finishing off for the team and that’s been the key, finishing a tournament positively and not just ending top of log.”

Finishing in number one spot in the Currie Cup, he added, might boost the team’s confidence but it does not guarantee the result.

“Whether we have that self-belief or not will only be evident after the final.”

Smit said he would remember the weekend’s semi-final against the Lions for the intensity and the “monstrous tackling.”

“It was a game of two halves, with the Sharks having the possession in the first half and the Lions in the second. The game gave us a good test from both an attacking and defensive point of view.”

Assistant Sharks coach Grant Bashford said the two sides in the final were approaching the contest differently.

“We’ve opted for normal week and the Bulls will have a short week. We’ll only know on October 25 which was right.”

He said that the semi-final win was pleasing from a team perspective “because the Sharks had a complete workout.”

“The work was done in the first half, but we ended the match making almost twice as many tackles (with 170 tackles to the Lions’ 97).

“Although we would have liked to have had more ball in the second half, we’re chuffed with the defending.”

Bashford said that the groundwork for the final had already been laid and there would not be much that would be changed.

“There has been a lot of empowerment of the players. From a tactical point of view and strategy, we’ve played the Bulls a few times and we know what to expect from them. So it really is just business as usual for us.”

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