Springboks

GREAT DEBATE | Smit v Bismarck ... Who is the best Springbok hooker ever?

When Sport24's Herman Mostert recently penned his greatest Springbok team of the professional era, one of the major talking points highlighted by you, the rugby public, concerned the hooker position.

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Bismarck du Plessis was picked at No 2, but a number of Sport24's readers in reaction suggested they would've opted for 2007 Rugby World Cup winning captain John Smit.

The quality of both players cannot be questioned, but Sport24 felt it would be a good idea to make a case for the inclusion of both in the starting XV.

Craig Taylor makes a case for Smit to start, while Lloyd Burnard backs Du Plessis.

But what do YOU think? Smit or Du Plessis? Let us know your thoughts by mailing us on mysport@sport24.co.za or by tweeting us at @sport24news

John Smit and Bismarck du Plessis

CASE FOR: John Smit

While he might not have had the "limpet-like" ability of Bismarck du Plessis when standing over the opposition ball come ruck time or his all-action overall game, there is no doubt in my mind that John Smit is the greatest hooker that South Africa has ever produced.

Smit was earmarked for the Springboks early in his career, making his debut in 2000 aged 22 and just two years after his provincial debut for the Sharks.

A member of the Springbok squad under Rudolf Straueli at the ill-fated 2003 World Cup, Smit was handed the captaincy of the national side by new coach, Jake White the following year. What followed was a partnership that brought South Africa not only Tri-Nations glory, but also the ultimate prize, the Rugby World Cup in 2007.

Smit played in a record 46 consecutive Test matches for the Springboks until an injury in 2007 saw that streak broken. When Pieter de Villiers replaced White in 2008, he had no hesitation in keeping Smit as captain.

More glory followed for the Springboks under Smit's captaincy including another Tri-Nations title in 2009 (including defeating the old enemy, New Zealand three times in the tournament) as well a 2-1 series victory over the British and Irish Lions.

Smit eventually did make way for du Plessis in the No 2 jersey but such was his undoubted leadership ability that he was moved to tighthead prop to accommodate his former understudy.

"Barney", as he was affectionately known to his team-mates, played in 111 Tests for South Africa between 2000 and 2011, leading them in 81 of those matches, a record for a Springbok captain.

Based on his leadership ability, his achievements, including a Rugby World Cup Winner's medal, two Tri-Nations and a series win over the Lions, Smit is the greatest ever hooker to wear green and gold.

CASE FOR: Bismarck du Plessis

When you look at John Smit's numbers and what he achieved in his 11 Springbok years, it is almost crazy to think there could be another option when discussing South Africa's best-ever hooker. 

Bismarck du Plessis, though, was no ordinary player. 

For this exercise, I am taking leadership quality completely out of the selection equation. This is based on on-field ability alone and, in that department, I'd go with Du Plessis every time. 

A physical specimen who was monstrous on defence and possessed superhuman capabilities over the ball, Du Plessis was the type of player who opposition packs would pay special attention to. 

The first year of his Springbok career was certainly spent in Smit's shadow and 29 of his 79 Test matches came off the bench, but Du Plessis was a key figure for the Boks in their 2007 World Cup winning campaign and he would go on to play in the 2011 and 2015 editions of the tournament too.

Du Plessis, in his prime, was given the No 2 jersey under coach Peter de Villiers in 2008. Just a year into his international career, he had become too good to leave out, and Smit shifted across to tighthead prop to accommodate him. 

Du Plessis was massive for the Boks in their 2009 series win over the British & Irish Lions - playing every minute of the first two Tests - while he was also crucial to South Africa's dominance over New Zealand that year as they won the Rugby Championship.

When he was firing, which was almost always, Du Plessis was regarded as the best in the business. 

His last Test came at the 2015 World Cup, but Du Plessis' pedigree also had Rassie Erasmus interested in 2018 when he was called up to a national squad. Injury, however, put a stop to those plans. 

Du Plessis has played his rugby out of Montpellier since 2015 but when he does pack it all in, he will go down as one of the best South Africa has ever produced. 

From lineout throwing to scrummaging, breakdown work to tackling and athleticism that should not be seen in the front row, Du Plessis had it all. 

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