Take a bow John Smit

It is early days, but both John Smit and Brendan Venter deserve huge credit for bringing a culture to Durban that looks to treat players like assets rather than commodities says Tank Lanning in his Sport24 column.

Sharks CEO John Smit tells a story of a player that came into his office one day complaining of his lack of opportunity in the side, saying that he believed he was a much better player than the incumbent and deserved more game time. Smit heard a lot of “I’s” in the story … I this, I that … so he asked the player what the coach’s child’s name was. The player could not answer. He asked him if the player currently starting had any pets. “Not sure” said the player …

“So instead of always focussing on yourself”, said Smit to the player, “Perhaps spend a bit of time actually getting to know your fellow team mates and coaches, and understanding their needs – both on and off the field. It is a team game after all …”

A few weeks later the player was a changed man … Not only getting more game time as a result of his increased integration with the greater squad … But also enjoying his rugby a whole lot more.

“I want my players to be accountable, but from an effort level,” said Smit in an interview I did for SCRUM Magazine a few weeks into his new role in Durban. “I want to create an environment where players feel like they have room to be human beings, but when it is rugby time, which is 12% of their day, they have to give 100%. I will help them with their whole day – I will get them work experience, help get them into university, I will get them into a trade. I will do whatever I can to create better people with a life after rugby, but then these people must commit to the Sharks. It won’t happen overnight, and I think players are liking what they hear, but perhaps thinking that they have heard all this before, so we will see how we go”

See how we go indeed … A Currie Cup trophy in year one of his reign suggests that it is going pretty damn well!

“Yep, it seems to be having an effect” he said to me – with a wry smile of course – at a function this week to announce the DHL World Cup sponsorship.

And true to his credo of their being more to life than just rugby, the man – now unable to fill out his Bok blazer given a training regime that sees him on a bike at 04h30 every morning – announced that he will be joining fellow ex Boks Corne Krige, Marius Hurter, Rob Kempson and Joel Stransky, and riding the Cape Epic next year!

Smit’s time at Saracens has without doubt influenced how he sees the game of rugby. Hence his appointment of Brendan Venter as Director of Rugby – even while based in Cape Town, carrying on his medical practice, and consulting to Saracens and the Baby Boks. It was risky, but his role was tightly defined – to change the on field ethos from beach and slip slops to hard graft, and to mentor Brad McLoed-Henderson, who Smit believes will be the head coach for a very long time

“Every player deserves an experience like the one I had at Saracens” says Smit. “Balanced life, good likeminded people, not rugby robots, driven, young vibrant hard working players and coaching staff, who all enjoy themselves both on and off the field. And an administrator who is half crazy but completely dedicated to make players better people and better valued.”

“We were treated unbelievably well, and all they wanted in return was effort. We were never taken to task about errors on the field, but only when there was ever a question around the amount of effort being put in. It was a very honest environment and that is what I want to bring back here. Invariably, what rugby players want most are honesty and communication, because it’s the two things they get the least. I want my players to get both here in Durban.”

Both Smit and Venter deserve huge credit for bringing a culture to Durban that looks to treat players like assets rather than commodities. Sure you run the risk of such a culture being abused by players, but said players will be found out, and more than likely exposed by fellow players who will grow to guard that culture fiercely.


  1. Hi Tank

    Nice article, and I believe that you are right, but its early days and lots can change. i just hope that Jake ‘tows the line’, as he is his own man and used to being top of the pile.

    But yip, the Currie Cup in DBN is a great feeling.

    1. Yep, difficult for Jake now. Be interesting to see how the schoolmaster approach fits in with this environment. Venter is definitely leaving …

  2. Hi there Tank, Very interesting article, john Smit seems to have got one huge education at Saracens. He is obviously not a dumb forward. He seems to be a well schooled, articulate leader, not only on the playing field but in the office as well. I am not a Sharks supporter but your article on him and the Sharks makes me wish that he and his attitude is carried to every corner of SA sport. Man we need it. Don’t we need it.

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