World Cup in hand, beating the Lions is next for John Smit
South Africa's World Cup winning skipper John Smit looks all set to lead his country into battle against the 2009 British & Irish Lions.
New Springbok coach Peter de Villiers singled out his captain for special praise in the wake of a 43-17 first Test victory over Wales in Bloemfontein.
And de Villiers revealed that getting Smit to return to play in South Africa was one of his main priorities after taking over as coach from Jake White.
"He is a fantastic leader and he was someone I always wanted to get back in the country and keep in the side," said de Villiers.
"We are lucky to have him and all credit to him for getting the guys together out there. It is a tribute to him as a player and a person that we played so well.
"There are twenty-one other players but he is the one who gets them all working together and as a successful team. I was quite surprised at how well the guys did.
"I thought it would actually take a lot longer for the team to gel. We have only been together for one and a half weeks so all credit to John Smit for molding the guys so quickly on the field.
"What we got right is we took a bunch of talented individuals and turned them into a very good side, blended as one team under a very good leader."
Smit joined top French outfit ASM Clermont Auvergne in the wake of his country's second World Cup triumph in Paris, but has since agreed an early release from his contract to return to South Africa on a permanent basis from next month.
Saturday's victory over Six Nations champions Wales was Smit's 50th game as Springbok skipper and he is now poised to lead South Africa not only into the 2008 Tri-Nations series, but also next year's revenge mission against the Lions.
Only Percy Montgomery remains in the Springbok squad from the side that lost the 1997 series 2-1 to Martin Johnson's dominant Lions party on their last tour to South Africa.
With the defence of their title as world champions four years off, the first major goal for De Villiers will be to put Ian McGeechan's Lions tourists firmly in their place in next summer's three Test series and Smit is set to take a major role in that campaign.