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The Ultimate Springbok World Cup Final XV: John Smit stands tall among the rest


John Smit's leadership skills stood out and this is the reason why he was backed by every coach who took charge.

John Smit did the basics well, that is he scrummed strongly and his lineout throwing was top-notch. Picture: Armand Hough / African News Agency(ANA)

AS part of The Glory of ’95 series, three of IOL Sport’s rugby writers decided to pick their ultimate Springbok World Cup Final XV. Today we look at hooker.

Candidates: Chris Rossouw (1995), John Smit (2007), Bongi Mbonambi (2019)

Jacques van der Westhuyzen

It is another tough call to have to make but thank goodness for this series only the starting players are being considered for selection. I wouldn’t have wanted to also have three of the most highly-rated hookers to have worn the green and gold to be part of the choice; that is, James Dalton, Bismarck du Plessis and Malcolm Marx.

So, it’s down to Rossouw, who benefitted when Dalton was red-carded and then banned in 1995, John Smit, who led the Boks to victory in the 2007 World Cup and also captained the team in 2011, and Bongi Mbonambi, who played out of his skin and jumped ahead of Marx in the pecking order in Japan last year. 

Rossouw did everything that was asked of him in the 1995 tournament and he’ll forever be a World Cup winner, but he also only played nine Tests. Mbonambi was superb in Japan last year and has become a real powerhouse Bok and hopefully he’ll play plenty more Tests for the national team, but for this selection there’s only one winner: Smit.

The veteran hooker led the Boks with distinction for eight years and very nearly captained the side to back-to-back World Cup victories. He earned 111 caps and gained the respect of his opponents and fellow team-mates; he was a real force in world rugby.

Smit did the basics well, that is he scrummed strongly and his line-out throwing was top-notch. But he also got around the park, carried well and made heaps of tackles. His leadership skills also stood out and it is the reason why he was backed by every coach who took charge.

Jacques’ choice: John Smit

Mike Greenaway

In 1995, Chris Rossouw stepped into the hooker slot for the Boks after James Dalton was suspended following the Battle of Boet Erasmus. Also Dalton’s deputy at Transvaal, Kitch Christie felt the pair could step up and do the job at international level, and Rossouw was indeed more than up to it.

Rossouw started from the quarter-final onwards and was faultless in his execution of the basics in the final.

In 2007, the Boks had the unique situation of having arguably the two best hookers in the world in John Smit and Bismarck du Plessis. Many felt that had Smit not been the highly respected captain of the side, Bismarck should have been starting. But Jake White stuck with his captain and Smit superbly led the Boks to glory. As a former prop, Smit was an exceptional scrummager and much of the good work he did was unseen by viewers.

Last year, Bongi Mbonambi had an excellent World Cup. His form was so good in 2019 that he overtook Malcolm Marx — no mean feat! — and he had a very good final.

To my mind, though, Smit’s overall contribution to the team trumps Bongi’s playing ability. Smit’s playing ability was underrated because he was at his best in the (unseen) tight-loose. He was a powerful ball carrier and, most significantly, he had a major presence on the field for the Boks. His calming influence on his teammates was vital.

Smit would also be my choice to captain the Ultimate Bok World Cup final team.

Mike’s choice: John Smit

Ashfak Mohamed 

As it was at the 2007 tournament and most definitely at the 2011 edition, choosing John Smit ahead of Bismarck du Plessis for the No 2 jersey is a contentious decision.

Let me be frank right at the start – if this choice had to be about the ability of the two players, then Du Plessis would win hands-down (and while we’re at it, Uli Schmidt is my pick as the best Springbok hooker of all time).

Du Plessis was the typical tough-guy front-rower who played like an extra loose forward and stood back for no one.

But at World Cups, it was Smit who started most of the games and was the more influential player, naturally.

And when Du Plessis did get a chance to start at the 2015 World Cup, despite a busy display in the losing semi-final against the All Blacks, he didn’t do enough to shade Smit.

The former SA Under-21 captain first led the Boks at the 2003 World Cup against Georgia, but was behind Danie Coetzee in the pecking order, with the Bulls hooker starting in the big pool match against England.

But by the time the quarter-final against New Zealand came along, Smit had become the first-choice No 2, and that is how things largely remained for the next eight years.

Of course, Smit’s crowning glory was the 2007 triumph, where his pinpoint throws into the lineout and scrumming ability stood out.

His leadership also came to the fore in the quarter-final against Fiji, where he gave a stern talk to the Boks when the score was level at 20-20.

Smit also nearly scored a try in the final against England following a Frans Steyn break. Towards the end of the match, he went off to get stitches to a cut above his left eye, but returned with three minutes to go to savour the final whistle.

In 2011, coach Peter de Villiers resisted the temptation to start Du Plessis at hooker, with Smit soldering on until the ill-fated quarter-final against Australia.

Ashfak’s Choice: John Smit

IOL Sport