Bok skipper pulls no punches

By David Canning Time of article published Nov 13, 2009

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Current Springbok and World Cup-winning rugby captain John Smit pulls no punches in a new book to be published this weekend.

He relates how Luke Watson had a "cancerous" effect on members of the national team, the inside story behind the notorious Kamp Staaldraad, and what he terms the rugby "treachery" of former Sharks front ranker Ollie le Roux.

Captain In The Cauldron - the John Smit Story also outlines his assessments of Bok and Sharks coaches. On the one hand there is Kevin Putt's double-speak and Rudolf Straeuli's overly militaristic 2003 World Cup campaign; on the other he is full of praise for Dick Muir, John Plumtree, Jake White and Peter de Villiers.

Written with The Mercury's rugby writer, Mike Greenaway, Captain In The Cauldron says that former Sharks Ollie le Roux and Chris Rossouw were involved in "a poisonous collaboration" against a number of younger Sharks players, especially in their disastrous 2000 tour under Hugh Reece-Edwards.

"Those guys taught me a lot about what not to do in a team environment."

During practice, Smit wrote, Le Roux would deliberately hold back against the scrummaging machine - his way "of telling me that I needed to know my place".

As senior front rankers they had wanted to control the team and, night after night, he says, they had accused Smit and Craig Davidson of causing a rift in the team. He was appalled at the treatment meted out to former Sharks captain Wayne Fyvie - a true son of KwaZulu-Natal, who had put his body on the line in every match.

Smit is, however, very passionate about the Sharks and full of praise for the their set-up.

While much has already been written on Kamp Staaldraad, Smit relates how this over-the-top militarism did not stop with Smit himself having to rip the head off a live chicken. The campaign was carried into the 2003 World Cup in Australia. In a stupid attempt to bring back memories of Staaldraad they were served chicken legs and eggs. They had guards posted at their doors and were trailed by the coach's spies (their chief Adriaan Heijns, a former undercover agent in the SA Police Force, being dubbed 000 by the players) wherever they went.

"All that suffering in the pit achieved nothing, in fact it had set us back," Smit says.

Other than that, Smit writes warmly of Straeuli (now involved in the Sharks). He credits Straeuli with having done a lot of good - restoring discipline after the Sharks' horrible 2000 tour. He was tough and worked hard.

"While a happy-go-lucky bloke on a personal level, Straeuli was afraid the players would behave as he had. As a result he had become very conservative." This over-the-top discipline had the opposite effect: it annoyed the players.

While he supports the goals of transformation, Smit also has some strong things to say about the role of some of the sport's administrators. Sadly, he thinks they are there for personal benefit, rather than for the good of rugby.

He relates how former rugby union deputy president Mike Stofile had never supported Smit in any way and had made his views known through the media.

It had hardly filled him with confidence to know that his employer felt that way about him.

However, Smit said, it did not take him long to get over things because Stofile lost his credibility through his actions.

Smit deals with his own leadership style, personal life and love for his family in some detail - relating how his romantic plan to propose to his then girlfriend (now wife), Roxy, on top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, went comically wrong.

He relates how some referees made critical mistakes and describes a number of funny on-field incidents, one involving Bakkies Botha grabbing the loud-mouthed Lions scrumhalf Mike Phillips by the collar, winding up his right arm for a punch and then cooing: "How about dinner on Tuesday?"

Smit lists his funniest "team" (in terms of fun-makers and spirit builders) as being (in sequence from player number 15 to number 1) Percy Montgomery, Jacque Fourie, Robbie Fleck, Trevor Halstead, Jean de Villiers, Butch James, Craig Davidson, Braam Immelman, Schalk Burger, Shane Chorley, Pieter Myburgh, Bakkies Botha, Adrian Garvey, Pieter Dixon and Deon Carstens.

His best "team" (from people he played with) he lists as Percy Montgomery, Napolioni Nalaga, Jacque Fourie, Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana, Henry Honiball, Fourie du Preez, Gary Teichmann, Andre Venter, Schalk Burger, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, CJ van der Linde, Bismarck du Plessis and Os du Randt.

Win with The Mercury

The Mercury is giving away five copies of John Smit's book Captain In The Cauldron - the John Smit Story to five lucky readers. To stand a chance of winning, SMS the words 'John Smit' followed by your name and surname to 31455 before 5pm today. SMSes are charged at normal rates. Winners will be contacted on Monday.

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