He may have taken his position but Springbok prop BJ Botha has no resentment towards John Smit.
In fact he believes he will make the transition from hooker to tighthead prop successfully. Botha, who recently started a new chapter in his career with Irish side Ulster, was overlooked for the Springboks’ touring squad.
With CJ van der Linde also deciding to further his career in Ireland (with Leinster), tighthead options were extremely thin on the ground. Brian Mujati was an obvious selection but coach Peter de Villiers’ desire to accommodate Bismarck du Plessis at hooker in the run-on side necessitated Smit’s switch to tighthead prop.
Smit has experience at tighthead at provincial and junior international level, but there is a widely held view that he could be exposed at Test level.
“I don’t think he will be,” Botha, who scrummed down next to Smit at the Sharks for a number of years, told keo.co.za.
“I think he will make the transition fairly easily. He’s a world-class player and will be able to adapt without much fuss. He’s covered tighthead for Clermont in the French Top 14 and we all know how much emphasis the French put on their scrumming.
“He came through there unscathed. In fact, I thought he did extremely well against some quality loosehead props. I’m not concerned that he’ll be dominated. Smitty will be fine.”
Botha has been sending Smit texts reminding him to “get into the V”. “It’s just front row speak really and all it means is that you have to get your angles right in the three-pod system (prop,lock and flanker) in order to be most effective. Just a little banter,” he joked.
He added that the fact the entire front row were Sharks would benefit the Springboks greatly.
“Beast, Bissie and Smitty’s familiarity is a plus,” he said. “Combinations are crucial in rugby and although they haven’t packed down in this way before, their relationship means they’re not coming into the Test cold and having to get to know each others’ strengths and weaknesses.
“When you have a player making a major positional shift like Smitty is, it helps to have some familiar faces around.”
Botha fronted Smit’s direct opponent, Wales loosehead prop Gethin Jenkins, in the second Test of Wales’ mid-year tour at Loftus in June. He acknowledged his skill and power, but advised Smit to focus on his own performance rather than to over-analyse Jenkins.
“Gethin is a very good player and is a big part of the reason Wales are such a strong scrummaging unit,” he said.
“But I wouldn’t get caught up too much in focusing on potential weaknesses in his game and channel my energy into doing the basics really well and consistently.”
By Ryan Vrede