At 33 Springbok captain John Smit is hardly over the hill but that hasn’t prevented armchair critics around the country buzzing about him being past his sell-by date.
Actually opinion is pretty much divided on the issue.
One camp believes Smit’s performance has deteriorated and that he should be replaced by Bismarck du Plessis at the Rugby World Cup in September. In addition he’s taking longer to recover from injuries than he did when he was in his twenties.
The other camp thinks he brings the team luck: with him at the helm the Boks go from strength to strength.
Smit has been playing for the Boks since he was 22 but he has been troubled by injuries ever since he led the Boks to World Cup glory in 2007. First he injured his groin then surgery for an old neck injury kept him out of the game for much of last year.
Now Smit is ready to return – but can he do it? Bismarck du Plessis (26) is breathing down his neck for the hooker position and it seems Victor Matfield could easily replace him as captain.
THE Bok captain isn’t a spent force yet, former Springbok prop Toks van der Linde says. He believes management should alternate between Smit and Du Plessis to use their abilities optimally.
His age is a problem but shouldn’t keep him out of the team. In fact he’s one of the players who has remained competitive the longest.
“People reach their physical peak when they’re 27 or 28 but can sometimes keep it up for a few years after that,” University of Cape Town sports scientist Professor Tim Noakes says.
Professor Noakes believes Smit is the best captain SA has had. “The experience he picked up when we won the World Cup can’t be bought. Good rugby isn’t just about physicality.”
World Cups are won by experienced teams, says Brendan Venter, a former Springbok centre. To suggest that Smit should stop playing at 33 would be similar to making someone retire at 55, Venter says. “That’s exactly when you’re at your best and most valuable.”
Smit isn’t too concerned about all the critical noise. While rugby circles are buzzing about whether he should stay or go he’s getting into tiptop shape for the year ahead.
Read all about it in YOU, 27 January 2011.