Springbok skipper John Smit is anxious for ‘the long wait’ to be over and for his side to get down to business with the British & Irish Lions at the ABSA Stadium this weekend.
The eagerly awaited three-Test Castle Lager series finally kicks-off in Durban on Saturday with the majority of South Africans hoping to end 12 years of torment following the smash and grab raid by Martin Johnson’s Lions on their last tour here in 1997.
Smit was one of a number of players who returned from overseas clubs to have a crack at adding a Lions series victory to the World Cup triumph the Springboks recorded in Paris in 2007.
He initially left South Africa and headed to France after leading his country to their second World Cup victory in 2007, but has admitted that it was the lure of playing against the Lions that forced him to quite ASM Clermont Auvergne and go home to Durban.
It was the same for veteran lock Victor Matfield, who turned his back on Toulon after one season. Others turned down lucrative overseas contracts to ensure they had the chance of playing against the Lions.
And, after two long years for Smit and a number of his players, the vital moment has finally arrived for the two teams and the Springbok captain says his players are ready to make history.
Here the Springbok skipper gives his verdict on what lies ahead for his team and the Lions…
Smit on the long wait
"We’ve been waiting 12 years for this. It is a big occasion and there will be a sigh of relief when everyone wakes up on Saturday morning because the waiting will be finally over.
"The anticipation, coupled with the pressure of the occasion, means there is huge excitement. The rarity of the series is another factor, as is the fact it means so much to the players of both sides.
"Now we can only hope and pray the quality of the game will match the excitement and anticipation of the past two years. We have to pay respect to how important these three games are and do them justice."
Smit on the Lions
"We’ve all seen some pleasant rugby played by the Lions and not exactly what we’ve expected. They have a widespread attack and they’ve shown they want to create space and width.
"They’ve got Brian O’Driscoll who can carve through the middle and they’ve got a good kicking game as well. They’ve picked a phenomenal team that could bring all types of games to the ABSA Stadium.
"They haven’t just come here to tackle and hope that that will do the trick. They can attack and defend and I’m sure they will be happy with the way they are coming into the game."
Smit on the hype
"We can only hope the game matches the hype that has been created. Because of the rarity of the occasion the hype has been bigger than for many other Test matches.
"It is going to be hugely contested over the next three weeks. There is so much at stake for both teams because there won’t be many players left in 12 years time from either side to try again."
John Smit is a huge figure in South Africa
Smit carries the hopes of a nation into the series with the Lions
Smit on coming home
"Two years ago I made the decision to come home when I could have stayed in Clermont and played the World Cup final over and over in my head and seen how wonderful that was.
"I chose to come back here and be part of a Springbok machine that still needed some work. The World Cup was phenomenal, and there wasn’t much sleeping going on in the last two weeks because of the pressure, but that competition comes up every two years.
"Most of the Springboks will get another chance or two to play in the World Cup. What’s coming up now will be a one off."
Smit on 1997
"There was no injustice in 1997. The 9-3 try count was irrelevant because it didn’t commute to a win for the Springboks.
"We’ve had to watch that drop kick for quite some time, but 1997 in rugby terms is a lifetime away from us.
"This is the last real old school series left. We don’t go on a ship and travel for weeks on end in another country. This is the last old school tour and it is important that rugby holds onto those traditions.
"It keeps the moral fibre of the game strong. It is not just our series – this is a part of more than 100 years of history."
John Smit talks to his players during training
Smit will lead the Boks into action at the ABSA Stadium this Saturday
Smit on the forward battle
"It’s going to be hot and steamy in the front row. All the fat boys will tell you the cliché that it all starts and ends up front. I still believe it has an impact.
"There are some old and new campaigners in the forwards. It’s an area that will be a priority for me and I’m looking forward to it. It’s a nervous occasion only because of how important it is."
Smit on the Boks’ preparations
"The biggest fear of any coach or captain is wondering if you have covered every little detail going into a big game. We’ve had two very productive weeks and the starting line-up has had pretty good rhythm. I think we have covered all bases and it’s going to be a question of how we apply the practical with the mental.
"You get into a situation as a captain where you try to freshen things up because we’ve been together as a squad for a long time. They’ve all heard me give the same ‘Braveheart’ speech over and over again, but there is not a lot I’ve felt I’ve had to do in terms of motivation since we’ve been together.
"That’s all because of the importance of what’s coming up. It has made my job much easier and the squad has been buzzing."