The day John Smit had to rein Bakkies in
SPOTLIGHT: John Philip Botha was the ultimate enforcer and inflicted his version of ‘discipline’ on opponents for more than a decade.
He was one of the most feared players at Currie Cup, Super Rugby and Test level – in 85 Tests and 250-odd first-class matches.
However, World Cup-winning former Springbok captain John Smit revealed there was a time when he had to rein in the man affectionately known as Bakkies – because he was actually doing more damage to his own team.
Smit, who led South Africa to victory over England at the 2007 World Cup Final in Paris, spoke to historian and author Dean Allen – as part of a hugely popular weekly fund-raising effort for the Chris Burger and Petro Jackson Players Fund.
Smit, having captained the Springboks in 83 of his 111 Tests, had a 65 percent success rate to go with the Webb Ellis Cup.
He was asked who was his toughest opponent.
And that is when he revealed that it was Keven Mealamu, the retired All Black hooker who once forced him to tell Botha to ‘back off’, because his actions were having a detrimental effect on his own team.
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“I played against Keven Mealamu since Under-20. For a decade we went head-to-head,” he said of the now-retired All Black hooker – who featured in 132 Tests and 170-odd Super Rugby matches for the Blues and Chiefs.
“The crazy thing with Kev [Mealamu] is that he is such a gentle, kind human being, but he was the toughest player out there.
“Bakkies [Botha] was quite good at inflicting discipline and setting the tone.
“In one of the early Test matches [in my career], Bakkies was inflicting some ‘below the line’ discipline to Keven.
“Every time he would get hold of Keven, Keven would just get angrier and angrier and more of a threat.
“Eventually, after the third time, I said to Bakkies: ‘Stop everything you are doing with this guy. The more you are irritating him, the better he is getting.’
“He [Mealamu] was probably the toughest opponent from a hooker’s point of view,” Smit said.
Smit also rated retired All Black Richie McCaw as the toughest captain he faced.
“Richie, 149 Test matches, is just incredible,” Smit said, adding: “He was the target of every team that played the All Blacks.
“He hardly ever got injured and never really had a bad game.
He has got to go down as one of the best that has ever played the game.”