British & Irish Lions

John Smit gives the Boks the mental edge over Lions

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John Smit during the British and Irish Lions Series Launch at FNB Stadium.
John Smit during the British and Irish Lions Series Launch at FNB Stadium.
(Lee Warren/Gallo Images)
  • Former SA skipper John Smit has given the mental edge to the Boks ahead of next year’s British and Irish Lions Tour.
  • Smit said he was "pro" the move to play in the Northern Hemisphere, where the Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and Lions will play in 2021.
  • Smit added that to even play in for the Sharks versus the British and Irish Lions in 1997 was enough of an honour.

Former captain John Smit gave the Springboks the mental edge over the British and Irish Lions ahead of next year’s hotly anticipated tour.

Smit, speaking at SA Rugby’s big reveal of Castle as the official tour sponsor, said last year’s Rugby World Cup events, where the Boks beat both Wales and England, gave his former side the mental edge over the Lions.

However, those two respective semifinal and final losses to the Springboks in Japan last year would rev up the intensity, warned Smit, who captained the Boks to a World Cup final win over England (2007) and to the Lions tour win in 2009.

"Having won the World Cup, and beating the Welsh and English in the process, who will make up a big part of the British and Irish Lions team, will give the Boks a mental edge," Smit said.

"They go in there as world champions and they’ve beaten those teams individually. From a mental point of view, they are in the best position they could be.

"The flip side of that is, those teams feel like they were helluva unlucky to lose those games and will want to prove a point.

"Tell you what, it’s all fun and games when you’re having a Castle afterwards, but before hand and during that Test match, it’s tiddly winks. It’s war out there.

"I played with a lot of the Lions players and they are very competitive, very capable and very determined to try and fix what they thought they messed up last year."

SA Rugby recently confirmed their participation in the Rugby Championship for at least the next 10 years, but the big four South African franchises were exiting the Southern Hemisphere to play in the old PRO14.

Smit, whose last club was Saracens in 2013, said this put South Africa at a unique advantage of playing in both the "Test match style" Northern Hemisphere environment, and keep their toes firmly dipped in the intricacies of battling New Zealand, Australia and Argentina in the south.

"Maybe I’m a bit biased but I’ve been pro this move to the north," said Smit.

"Maybe it’s because I played rugby over there, quite recently, and ended my career there, but the quality is high.

"Continuing with the Rugby Championship means it gives us the benefit of both sides. You have to play in a very different way in the Northern Hemisphere.

"There’s a lot more opportunity to practice Test match rugby in the north versus the south. I do think it would help us to have our franchises playing in the PRO14."

Smit added that there was much joy to be garnered from playing against the Lions, even for the players that will not represent the Boks next year, who will play in the tour games for the Stormers, Bulls, Sharks or the SA "Invitational" team.

"One of my best experiences, and one of the best stories about my career I ever told, was about the experience in 1997, playing for the Sharks against the Lions in Durban," he said.

"I was 19 years old and I think it was my second First Class game and to be able to go on 12 years later and experience it full on was a privilege.

"The youngsters that get those opportunities … even if I only ever played against the Lions in 1997, I would have held onto that memory. I’ve still got that jersey.

"It’s just something you can’t mimic anywhere else and that experience is what will get them super hungry and to fight for that green and gold jersey, and then to hold onto it."

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