Smit lauds 'greatest Springbok' Matfield

(Rugby News Service) Monday 10 October 2011
Smit lauds 'greatest Springbok' Matfield
John Smit (R) praised retiring Springboks second row Victor Matfield

WELLINGTON, 10 Oct. - Outgoing South Africa captain John Smit has paid an emotional tribute to fellow veteran Victor Matfield as "the greatest Springbok ever".

After the crushing disappointment of an 11-9 quarter-final defeat by Australia on Sunday, Smit said he was "devastated" to be stepping down after seven years as captain of the 2007 world champions.

But the 33-year-old hooker also stated he was proud to have played alongside the likes of Matfield, the 110-Test second row who deputised for him as skipper so often and who, like Smit, has made his last appearance on the international stage.

"I could sit here for an hour speaking about the value and contribution he has made to South Africa," Smit said after the match at Wellington Regional Stadium.

"Today, again, colossal in the lineouts, leadership sublime, always making sure the right calls are made, his composure.

"I think the most valuable thing about Victor is how he makes the players around him feel.

"When he's picked in the side, there's a calmness about him, a composure that he possesses, and hopefully the youngsters will have learned from that and will have taken it forward.

Last hurrah

"He's a huge player. In my opinion, the greatest Springbok that's ever been."

The team Smit led on to the Wellington pitch had accumulated 836 caps, making it the most-capped starting line-up in Test history.

As well as Smit and 34-year-old Matfield, the Springboks are likely to have seen the last of second rowers Bakkies Botha (aged 32) and Danie Rossouw (33). Before the tournament, scrum half Fourie du Preez, who is 29, also suggested it could be his last hurrah.

Smit, capped 111 times for South Africa, said: "I have been blessed to be in charge of these guys and run out with them and blessed to be captain of the Springboks. 

"I am devastated today. It's the end of a chapter and I am proud of the guys I have played with and really proud to have been a Springbok."

Matfield said: "I think I'm going to miss it. I love this game. It has been my life over the last 12 years, so it's going to be tough."

RNS sw/pj/sg