Front Row Grunt

Rugby … with cauliflower ears

John Smit

No apprenticeship for Smit

John Smit seems set to make a fairly remarkable return to Kings Park as the new CEO of the Sharks, replacing Brian van Zyl … Tank Lanning ponders this development.

I heard the truly extraordinary news while in Durban for the inaugural East Coast Tens over the Easter weekend but was asked to keep it quiet …

And while the Sharks remain tight-lipped on the development, Mike Greenaway writes in the Mercury today that top sources have indeed confirmed the story.

Being part of the ClubWise initiative from SARU that will see the national union aim to improve all club administration in this country via a Cathseta approved 5 day course and 96 page manual/textbook, seeing ex players getting into administration rather than just coaching and commentating is fantastic!

But to come in as the CEO of the richest franchise in the country is a fairly industrial call! A bit like a player coming back from a 12 month injury and going straight into the Super Rugby side rather than getting a few club and Vodacom Cup games first.

How about a year at the helm of College Rovers, Crusaders or UKZN first? I do not doubt the man’s leadership, charisma, integrity or passion for the game, but surely a few new skills will need to be developed before he will have the confidence to implement any new ideas?

This apart from the political nous needed to succeed in a role like this … And I write that with a heavy heart – Petty politics, be they of the national variety or of the Natal or WP club variety, are what is keeping this country from world domination on the rugby field!

Greenaway reports that Smit’s appointment will be ratified at a Sharks council meeting on Monday, but an official statement could well come out on Wednesday as the news breaks.

Smit is playing out his career with London club Saracens and, while he was due to play one final season with French club Toulon in 2014, the Sharks are understood to have negotiated his release.

There have been behind-the-scenes talks with Smit for some months, which will counter conjecture that there is a changing of the guard at The Sharks because of the recent wave of negative publicity stemming from violence and crime in and around the Kings Park precinct on match days.

But it does see Smit enter stage right at a fairly tempestuous time!

He is a favourite son at Kings Park, though, having played for the Sharks for 13 consecutive years. And it is understood that his appointment is supported by those that count. It’s whether that support will remain when called on to make a tough call that would marginalise an entity or club that had perhaps previously enjoyed a favourable lie of the land?

No doubt Smit will be asked to take the franchise into a new era, to inject new blood and new ideas. And one has to presume that the players, via their contractual and image rights, will benefit from having an ex player at the helm. But it will be very interesting to see how said ex player reacts when called upon to cut up a very finite pie.

I think it is a particularly exciting development, and much like if a player is good enough, he is old enough, if those in the know believe Smit to be the man for the job, then who the hell am I to argue? I wish the much liked ex Bok skipper luck …

Author: Tank

Ex WP prop with a fair amount of experience in all things media ...


  1. I disagree that Smit has integrity. A man with integrity would have acknowledged he was not good enough to hold the no. 2 jersey, stepped down as Bok captain two years earlier than he did and put team and country ahead of personal ambition.

    • I like your thinking Hank, as I also thought Bismarck was kept out the Bok side for too long, but wow, it is pretty hard core … I am not sure you could ask any single human to say no to a Bok selection (unless being paid Monopoly money by a Japanese club) … I think Divvy is the one that stuffed that one up

  2. It sure is interesting and like you I wish him well.

    I certainly agree that some sort of apprenticeship might have been a better idea, perhaps where Brian remained in the position for a year longer with John being brought in at a level akin to General Manager – Strategic Operations, where he would work closely with Brian while learning the ropes. (Not that I know of the Executive structure of the Sharks franchise).

    One thing is certain is that the learning curve will be a very steep and very slippery one. Once again John will be under fire from all sides and I have no doubt that he will get the blame for anything which could go wrong. Given the mentality of some of the rugby public I just hope for his sake they do not raise the cost of beer and chips at the Shark Tank.

    I also hope this is not just an attempt to smooth over recent violence at the games, and some other Sharks problems which may exist, by method of distraction.

    Good Luck John! But for the meantime you might want to keep the mouth guard in as a few will no doubt do their best to beat you down.

  3. An excellent post Tank – agree 100%. Amazes me how some of the ex players walk immediately into top posts, especially on the coaching front. Smit’s biggest test is going to be when he has to tell a recent playing “mate” that he no longer can be contracted or tell an ex playing “mate” he cannot be paid what he is expecting. To walk off the park and put that divide between yourself and the players is easier said than done.

  4. In case anyone did not read the full story Brian van Zyl retires next February!!!!!! There will be an overlapping and a period where Brian van Zyl will still be around….. Maybe give the guy a chance before calling for his head!!!!!!

  5. Who called for his head?