John Smit has one of the most impressive international rugby CVs you’ll see.
It reads: 111 caps - 82 as captain, 2004 & 2009 Tri Nations Champions, a win percentage of 72% as captain, led his side to the 2009 series win against the British & Irish Lions, lifted the William Web Ellis trophy in the 2007 World Cup and a World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee.
But despite this, during his illustrious playing career for South Africa he only managed to beat the All Blacks once on New Zealand home territory. An astonishing statistic considering the Springboks play the All Blacks 3 times a year.
When Smit visited our office last week, he spoke about the challenges of facing the All Blacks, and gave his thoughts on what the British & Irish Lions will need to do to stand a chance of returning from the 2017 Tour victorious.
“Firstly they [New Zealand] don’t have a particular weakness, other than the fact they like to play a lot and will take chances in certain areas of the field that most teams wouldn’t. A very organised and very aggressive defence with a good scramble can put them under pressure, just like we saw in Chicago with Ireland. When it goes wrong it goes really wrong.’
Considering the All Blacks were recently unbeaten for 18 consecutive matches, it doesn’t go ‘wrong’ for them too often. Smit continued,
“The only way really for any team to stand a chance is to put them under pressure - eliminate space and eliminate time. There are only two ways to do that, you got to have a very fast and aggressive defence or be brave and don’t give them the ball.”
With the British & Irish Lions touring every 4 years and alternating between South Africa and New Zealand, southern hemisphere players cannot afford to take the Lions lightly. Smit remembers back to being on the bench in the 2nd test of the 1997 Lions tour where the Springboks lost out to a last minute Jeremy Guscott drop goal.
“That was obviously a horrible series for South Africa, we lost it but it was a great series for the Lions who had some great players, and you don’t understand but in South Africa you live with that loss for 12 years.”
Unfortunately, Smit will gain little sympathy this side of the equator for that series loss. However he and the ‘Boks had their revenge over the Lions in 2009 when he captained the side to a 2-1 win. Smit spoke about the momentum the team had having won the 2007 World Cup and described the prospect of having the Lions visit as the “carrot that dangled after 2007”. He gave us an insight into the bruising tour of 2009:
“The second test was probably the biggest contest or test match I have ever played in; it was just a colossal ding dong from one side to another. It was a crazy test and one I will just never forget.It was probably one of the most special experiences because in the modern era you don’t get to play many series and this really was it. If we had missed the last kick it would have gone down to the wire and then who knows what would have happened in 3rd test. It was definitely one of my most memorable rugby moments”.
He went on to mention the atmosphere for all three tests with the famous army of Lions supporters.
“The supporters are insane. It’s the only team in my career I have played at home and having felt that way. That army is incredible and the noise they make. Add this to the fact that South Africans aren’t a singing fan group and so the collective noise is just incredible. It adds a huge amount to what the Lions already bring to the field.”
Without a doubt, there will be a huge buzz when the passionate Lions supporters arrive in the country which lives and breathes the game.