John Smit being held back by members of the Lions team

THERE’S STILL a bit more petrol in his tank and John Smit hopes to make this year’s World Cup, which makes the timing of his autobiography surprising. Maybe he couldn’t wait any longer to have a go at Luke Watson, whose presence in South Africa’s squad was the reason, says Smit, why the Springboks struggled in the 2008 Tri-Nations. The issue is covered in a provocatively named chapter called Killing the Cancer.

If Watson gets both barrels, the most gripping material centres on Kamp Staaldraad, the 2003 World Cup training camp that led to humiliating TV footage of the players and the suicide of video analyst Dale McDermott, who leaked the tapes. You will probably read the chapter with your mouth agape: strip searches, vicious boxing bouts, chicken slaughtering, water torture, sleep and food deprivation… anything went. Neil de Kock even had a gun pointed at him just for looking for a box of matches.

Having watched Joe van Niekerk make a hash of killing a chicken, Smit ripped the head off another live bird, covering himself in blood. But he emerged stronger for the experience and went on to join the elite band of World Cup-winning captains, his speech during the hairy 2007 quarter-final against Fiji epitomising the composure befitting great leaders.

Beating the Lions almost completed a full set for Smit – the 2007 Super 14 final haunts him to this day – and he pulls no punches on Geech’s squad. “The more they whined, the more we laughed at them,” he writes. And if Mike Phillips is reading this, he thinks you’re an idiot!

It’s a spicier read than you might expect from a national captain.


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This article appeared in the March 2010 issue of Rugby World Magazine

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