Old habits die hard, as John Smit is finding out as chief executive officer of the Sharks. Having carved his reputation as a leader in the murky underworld of the front row, he is still adjusting to life in a suit and tie.
“Playing rugby is easy, because you are in the moment. But now, watching games – especially in a suit up in the president’s box – has become so unbearable. The thing is, I like to express myself, and you can’t really do that up there,” he admitted.
“If I had it my way, I would do my job until 7pm, then disappear until 9.30pm, and I would not have to get worked up. I still have to find calm,” he said ahead of yesterday’s opening Super Rugby derby against the Bulls.
The adrenalin rush that comes with a new season, new challenges and the familiarity of something that you have done for a long time has already lured Smit’s Bok lieutenant, Victor Matfield, back on to the field, but Smit maintains that he doesn’t miss it.
“I played my last game on the 19th of May, 2013. I played for Saracens, and we had a great time and won. That was 16 years of my life, but I haven’t yearned to play since then. I have this great, new challenge in my life,” he smiled.
Smit is now eight months into his job, and he admits that much of that period has been spent learning.
“People keep asking if I’m settled, and to be honest, I don’t think you ever completely settle. I’ve learnt a huge amount, and I still have a huge amount to learn. I think the day that I sit back and wonder what to do next, will be the day I really have to worry,” he pointed out.
“The Sharks took a big chance with me, at such a young age and with no corporate experience. I’m very lucky to have one of the strongest boards in sport in this country, and they have been phenomenal in their support. A guy like Steven Saad (chairman of Sharks board of directors) takes my calls at any time, to give me advice. Old heads like Terry Rosenberg have also given their time and expertise freely. So I have not been short of advice,” he revealed.
Smit does admit that the expectations on the Sharks, on the field, are justified – especially considering the changes that have been made to back room staff. He says the addition of Jake White, his former Bok mentor, was integral in advancing the careers of an exciting batch of promising coaches.
“Jake’s experience and success was vital. You hope that you’ve made the right call, in terms of people and the mix of personalities, but only time will tell. I think what will be a constant in my time is that there will be changes. I have a certain way of doing things, and I try and get in the right people, and I just have to believe that the results on the field will take care of themselves.”
Smit acknowledged that the Sharks have all the ingredients to have a massive year. Certainly, all the talk coming out of the Shark Tank in the off-season has been positive.
“Of course, there will be pressure. If you don’t feel pressure, then what you are doing is not worthwhile. Of course, there will be setbacks, I know that. There will always be those who are waiting for us to fail, but I guess that is a motivation in itself as well.
“The way I look at it is – where would I rather be? At a franchise with no expectations, or one like this, that’s brimming with expectation and waiting to see what we can do?”
With a new chief executive officer, a new captain, a new head coach, a new jersey, new sponsors, and renewed hope for glory (and the small matter of the Currie Cup in the cabinet), the Sharks are embarking on what looks set to be an adventurous 2014 campaign, in search of the one piece of silverware that has eluded them.
Clearly, Smit will have to get comfortable in the president’s box.
A Shark Tank expects. - Sunday Tribune