Outgoing Sharks chief executive officer Brian van Zyl will mentor administrative protégé John Smit for seven months before vacating the hot seat and handing over the reins of the Sharks exclusively to the former Springbok and Sharks captain.
Yesterday the board of directors of the Sharks confirmed that Smit would start his new role on July 1, and that the long-serving Van Zyl would remain in office until his official retirement date at the end of February next year, during which time he would show Smit the ropes.
It is bound to be a hugely productive time for the wet-behind-the-ears Smit (in terms of administration, anyway) and he will learn from one of the best in the business.
When news broke last week that Smit was to return to Durban to lead the Sharks off the field as the youngest ever rugby executive, one of the concerns was that he might initially battle to make the transition from player to boss. But with the wily Van Zyl at his side, the waters will be smoother.
There is a wealth of precious information that Smit will suck up from his former boss, particularly when it comes to the intricate workings of the South African Rugby Union and Sanzar, the body that governs Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship, and Smit will learn how to go in to bat for his union, as Van Zyl so often did.
There is also the delicate matter of player contracts, and the ongoing matter of getting the balance right between recruitment and harvesting the best products of the Sharks Academy.
Van Zyl said he was looking forward to imparting his wisdom to Smit.
“I wish to congratulate John on his appointment and wish him the very best in his new role. He was an inspirational captain and team man, and I know that I leave the Sharks in good hands,” Van Zyl said.
“I have a few months to go before retirement and will use this time to ensure that the black-and-white baton is securely placed in John’s hands, and so contribute to the successful Sharks legacy. I leave a proud man.”
Having joined the Sharks in February 1994, Van Zyl will have served the franchise with distinction for 20 years. Over that time the Sharks have become not only one of the most financially sound unions, but also a sporting brand of international acclaim.
Stephen Saad, the chairman of the Sharks’ board of directors, said: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank Brian for his invaluable contribution to the Sharks. His knowledge, experience and understanding of the game and its administration is outstanding. At the end of his tenure, he leaves The Sharks in good stead and we salute him for his many years of commitment to rugby in South Africa.”
Saad added that the time was right for a new beginning.
“John Smit’s appointment marks the dawn of a new and exciting era at the Sharks,” he said. “We look forward to welcoming the favourite son of South African Rugby to his new role as CEO. We pledge our support and commitment to him, and have every confidence that he will embrace his new role with the same leadership, spirit and vigour that he displayed as the most-capped Springbok captain and player of all time.”
Over the course of his 13-year professional career with the Sharks, Smit became the most respected and decorated rugby player in South African history, and his achievements both on and off the field are well documented. He is a natural leader and has an innate ability to rally his troops and get the best out of his team. The Sharks will be looking to Smit to show similar initiative off the field.
Smit’s former coach, John Plumtree, will now have to deal with Smit on a different level, but he envisages a healthy relationship.
“On behalf of team management and the players, I extend our congratulations to John on his appointment,” Plumtree said. “Over the years, many of us have shared special memories with John, and we look forward to working with and supporting him in his new capacity.”
Smit is currently playing for Saracens in England and was not available for comment yesterday. - The Mercury