'This is a special group'
REACTION: Former Springbok captain John Smit hailed a “colossal” effort by Siyamthanda Kolisi’s current team, who backed up their 2019 World Cup triumph with a series win against the British and Irish Lions.
Smit, who led the Springboks to a 2007 World Cup and 2009 B&I Lions double triumph, said the feat of the current team was made special by the challenges they faced, which included being prevented by the COVID-19 pandemic from playing any Test matches in 2020.
The Springboks followed up victory in the World Cup with a tense series win against the B&I Lions, sealed by a 19-16 victory in the third Test in Cape Town at the weekend.
“We came back from the World Cup in 2007 and wanted to back up the legacy to show the world and our supporters that we could do it again,” Smit said.
“The only way to do it is to pitch up and beat the best of the north.
“This team has done that as well in unbelievably difficult conditions.
“They’ve had COVID-19, they’ve had isolation, they’ve been in a bubble. All of these challenges.
“They haven’t been able to develop new players or new strategies because they’ve missed out on two seasons because of the pandemic.
“This is a special group
“It’s a Springbok team that continues to give hope to South Africa. They continue to perform, they leave everything out there.”
Smit said the leadership of Kolisi was crucial, especially after he had to overcome the “sadness and frustration” of losing the first Test.
“It’s a special story and he’s been able to add on to that,” said Smit, highlighting the way Kolisi gave credit to others.
“In his first interview, he gives kudos to Eben Etzebeth because he understands the impetus and importance of that last scrum.”
The scrum earned the Springboks a penalty when they were desperately defending their lead in the dying seconds.
“For me, that’s a great leader. He understands the value of the people that he’s responsible for and he gives them and the leadership group all the credit. He’s an incredibly humble person.”
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Watch Siyamthanmda Kolisi speak about what the series win means to him, the team and South Africa
‘Leading from the front’
Another former Springbok captain, Victor Matfield, added his praise.
“Siya was under pressure after the first game,” said Matfield.
“People said he’s not playing well, he’s not leading the side well, that [Lions captain] Alun Wyn Jones had his number.
“Then he came through last week and again, leading from the front.”
Smit, Matfield and other former players agreed that the series could have gone either way.
“The cruellest thing about sport is the little margins that make such a huge difference,” said Smit.
Jeremy Guscott, who sealed a Lions series win over the Springboks with a drop-goal in 1997, said he believed the Springboks deserved their victory.
“Over the three matches the Springboks were very consistent, they were the better team in the end. The Lions can be generally proud but it wasn’t quite good enough in the end.”
Guscott said the Lions might look back at their decision to kick for touch, trying to score tries instead of securing three points from penalty goals.
“It was a big brave call. The Lions played rugby, they gave it their best shot but the Bok defence did very well.”
South African-born former Ireland and Lions forward Christiaan Stander said with hindsight that he thought the Lions should have kicked for goal.
“Those three penalties, that is nine points. I am a big believer in Test rugby you take the points.”