GRANT BALL writes that Juan Smith was one of a few Springboks who could be pleased with his performance in Bloemfontein.
Smith has highlighted his value to the Springboks over the last three weeks after missing the Boks’ forgettable overseas leg. With the side again looking disjointed and disorganised, especially on defence, they required individuals to provide some impetus, and Smith was one of those who responded.
Although Francois Louw was unfairly dropped and the back row balance with Smith and Schalk Burger playing alongside one another has rightfully been questioned, Smith’s all-round game and Burger’s work-rate means they are invaluable to the side.
After an enforced break that meant he missed the majority of the Boks’ season due to injury and personal reasons, Smith has provided some understated leadership. The break has left him refreshed, and the side and Smith are the better for it.
While others in the squad will go down as ‘greats’ and receive most of the plaudits, Smith’s silent nature but consistent performances ensures he’s the perfect example for his team-mates.
With Peter de Villiers disregarding the need to pick a specialist fetcher, Smith and Burger have more of a role in setting the tone at the breakdowns when the Boks have ball in hand. Much of Smith’s clearing at ruck-time goes unnoticed, but he’s a valuable role player in lifting the Boks’ intensity in this area and is more often than not the first player present to clear out players such as pilferer David Pocock.
Although Smith knocked on in the 19th minute with the line beckoning and unmarked players on the outside, it was a rare mistake from one of the most under-rated players in the side. Along with Jean de Villiers and Gurthro Steenkamp, the trio were far and away the best Boks on display on Saturday.
Smith made two carries in the build up to the Boks’ first penalty, and that set the trend for the remainder of the evening as he was tireless in attack and defence. The angles he runs means he virtually always gets over the advantage line, and even though the Bok attack is predictable with one-off runners from the breakdowns, Smith still breaks tackles the majority of the time or draws in two defenders.
The Boks rarely contested at lineout time, but Smith was the main threat at the tail when they did, while his ability in the air set up the possession for Steenkamp’s try.
On a day when the Bok defence was again so porous that it was embarrassing, Smith refused to be effected by that tackling disease as his tackle count was high. Smith made tackles on behalf of many of his team-mates, which included a great covering tackle on Matt Giteau in the lead up to Stephen Moore’s try. His communication was vital, and he was one of a few Boks who made all his tackles.
There has been talk of Smith taking over the captaincy later this year with John Smit and Victor Matfield possibly being rested for the Grand Slam, but that would be an unnecessary burden for Smith. The way he’s going at the moment, you just want him playing as he is and not having to worry about leading the team.