The former Sharks hooker and emergency tight-head prop had skippered his country to World Cup glory two years earlier and again wore the armband at the recent global gathering in New Zealand.
Smit has since announced his retirement from international rugby but is now about to start a new chapter after arriving in London on a two-year contract with the English Champions.
And rather than rely on past achievements, Smit is determined to earn his stripes by embracing the new-boy tag and proving himself to a fresh set of team-mates, coaches and fans.
"I'm quite happy to let go of everything that was back in South Africa and start again. If I don't, I'll be probably be out of the squad," said Smit, who touched down in England earlier this week.
"My wife asked me why I was so nervous about coming to a new club. I explained that it's like when you leave junior school and you're sort of the main guy and you have to go to secondary school and you become absolute bird terd, really! That's where I am.
"I'm happy to put past perceptions behind me, earn their respect and start afresh."
This time last year, the prospect of moving to the UK seemed a long way off for one of South Africa's most-famous sons.
Tipped to call time on a stellar career after the 2011 World Cup, Smit admits he was thinking about heading down the road to retirement.
But a call from Saracens' chief executive Edward Griffiths changed all that - a call that means Smit could now face a host of Lions' foes over the coming months in both domestic and European competition.
"A year ago, I thought I would probably stop playing rugby after the World Cup," added Smit.
"But the body feels good and I still get a huge amount of enjoyment out of training hard, being with mates in a team environment, relying on other people and being responsible for others.
"When I got the call from Edward with the opportunity, it was an exciting one for me. I told my Mrs that she might have to stop her job again and pull the kids out of school! I thought she'd be the one who fought me the hardest but she realises that I enjoy what I do.
"The last couple of years have been tough. As captain of the Springboks, it's life and death every single weekend. To get into a squad that's established, dynamic and looks to me like it's looking to expand all the time, that's exciting.
"I can come here, try and fit in, play some rugby and train hard. It's a privilege and an exciting chapter for me to come into."