Smit: ‘Finally, it’s here’
19 Jun 2009
John Smit is relieved that the build-up to the British & Irish Lions Test series is over. Now, he says, it’s time to front.
Large portions of the world’s rainforests have been destroyed in the process of covering the tour, and hundreds of hours of airtime have been dedicated to discussing various aspects of it.
At 3pm at King’s Park on Saturday, the permutations, speculation, smack talk and tactical theorising will all culminate in an 80-minute battle where victory, aesthetically pleasing or not, will be all that matters.
Smit concedes that he has at times been swept away by the emotion that accompanies a series of this magnitude, and has had to rein himself in. He is grateful the wait is over.
‘It’s been 12 years coming and it’s a big sigh of relief that’s it’s actually here now,’ Smit told keo.co.za. ‘The magnitude of the Test series is starting to dawn on us fully now.
‘It’s been a big weight on our shoulders, now I just hope the quality of the Test can match the hype that has been building for the past two years or so.
‘For most players in either 22, this is the last time we will get to experience a Lions tour to South Africa. We won’t be able to re-live this in 12 years time. That means we’re both desperate for a victory, and it certainly adds to the pressure we feel.
‘But pressure shouldn’t be viewed as a negative. It keeps us sharp and focused in our task. It’s going to be a massive Test. We know we have to deliver. There are no excuses.’
Smit reinforced the view that the series defeat in 1997 has no bearing on their mental state, nor is it a motivation coming into the series.
‘There was no injustice in 1997. We scored more tries, but at the end of the day we’ve had to watch that [Jeremy Guscott] drop-goal that won the series for the last 12 years. But in rugby terms, that series is a lifetime away from this squad,’ he said.
‘We don’t think about revenge. This is a new group of players with an opportunity to achieve something special.’
Smit said he wouldn’t allow himself to think about what it would mean to win every major title he could with the Springboks.
‘That would defeat the purpose of what we’re trying to achieve in the first Test,’ he said. ‘I’ll tell on the evening of 4 July [the final Test] what that means, but right now King’s Park is our focus.’
Smit’s leadership has been central to the Springboks’ success over the past six years, but he says there was no need to motivate his squad, as they were all acutely aware of what victory over the Lions would mean.
‘The guys have heard me give the same Braveheart speech over and over again, but as soon as the squad gathered it became apparent that I didn’t have to do or say anything to create the atmosphere I envisaged,’ he said.
‘The Lions are upon us and if the prospect of beating them doesn’t motivate a Springbok, nothing will.’
By Ryan Vrede, in Durban