Springbok World Cup winner John Smit takes time out to name the five toughest opponents he ever faced on the field


John Smit played in three World Cups, winning 111 caps for South Africa and lifting the 2007 trophy after defeating England in the final in Paris. After two years in the UK with Saracens, he returned to South Africa where he is currently CEO of the Sharks. Here he talks about the five toughest hookers he ever played with or against in a distinguished career

Keven Mealamu, New Zealand (126 caps)

“The toughest bastard out there has to be Keven Mealamu. The harder you went at him, the harder he came back at you. He was totally fearless. You almost had to guage how you played against him. There was nothing you could do that would make him go away. He was nuggety and just kept on going. He would run through walls for the All Blacks and what’s more amazing is he’s my age (36) and he’s still going, now into this fourth World Cup. I have an incredible amount of respect for Kev. A phenomenal player.”

Keven Mealamu

Tough nut: Keven Mealamu wasn’t the biggest but he was the hardest Smit opponent

Keith Wood, Ireland (63 caps, incl 5 for Lions)

“When I was just starting out at hooker, I played against Keith (Wood) in Dublin. Let’s just say he gave me a good schooling. He pulled out every trick in the book to show the youngster who was boss. I took on board everything I was on the end of and put it into my armoury. Woody was a phenomenal player. He was a strong leader and a superb thrower of the ball – I think there was a time when he didn’t missed a lineout in two years. When he’d peel around from the lineout and come at you, you certainly knew about it. He was fiery to play against but a player you’d love to have on your side and a good bloke off the field.”

Keith Wood

Inspirational: An experienced Keith Wood gave Smit a schooling in the front row

Steve Thompson, England (76 caps, inc 3 for Lions)

“I had quite a few tussles with Steve Thompson. He was in a similar physical mould to me, over 120kgs and we had some fantastic clashes up front. He played in a time where South Africa didn’t have much luck against England and I normally ended up on the losing side against him. The England pack back then were an abrasive bunch which I quite liked. The Springboks learnt a lot of lessons from them. As well as the set-piece, he was a decent hooker in the loose and liked to carry the ball. Like many great hookers, he played like an auxiliary flanker.”

John Smit

Mobile: Steve Thompson was part of an abrasive England pack that taugh Smit lessons

Bismarck du Plessis, South Africa (73 caps)

“I played with Bismarck for two years around 2009 and 2010. His workrate, tenacity and physical edge is incredible. He was playing so well, I was moved to tighthead just to accommodate him. I remember playing with him in Hamilton against the All Blacks and I’ve never seen anyone work as hard or exert such a physical influence in 80 minutes. We’ve all seen what he can do. He’s like a loose forward; he steals ball, throws and scrummages unbelievably well. Of course there was rivalry between us, but he was also respectful. I’d like to say I took him under my wing and taught him everything I knew. There’s a big part of me that is proud of how he plays. I saw him only recently. We have a great relationship.”

Bismarck du Plessis

Unit: Bismarck du Plessis has an all-round game at No 2 in Smit’s eyes

Chris Roussow, South Africa (9 caps)

“Chris was the Springboks hooker in our World Cup win in 1995, so I respected him from the off. I started out as tighthead prop and was just a youngster. At the time I didn’t know I was learning, but Chris would spend time with me and look out for me so I could survive. He used all the little tricks only front rows would know – believe me, I could spend hours telling you! I picked these things up and passed them down to help tightheads I played with. He was a lovely bloke.”

John Smit

Rugby Legends: John Smit (far left) in London and ready for the World Cup

John Smit will feature on the Heineken Rugby Studio during RWC 2015. Get closer to the action @heineken#ItsYourCall. For more info visit heineken.com/rugby.