26 October 2011
The South African Rugby Union (Saru) has paid tribute to two giants of the game, John Smit and Victor Matfield, on their retirement from test rugby.
Smit arrived in England on Tuesday to take up a two-year contract with the London-based Saracens club, while Matfield has announced his retirement from all rugby, but will make one final appearance for the Barbarians against Australia at Twickenham next month.
Smit departs the international game as the most-capped Springbok test player of all time, and the most-capped captain in the history of international rugby, having led the team on 83 occasions in his 111 tests.
Matfield retires having played in 114 Springbok matches, more than anyone else, including 110 tests and four midweek matches. He also captained the Boks on 17 occasions.
During their careers, the pair led the Springboks to the Rugby World Cup title in 2007 and to Castle Tri-Nations titles in 2004 and 2009, as well as a series win over the British & Irish Lions. Their Springbok careers spanned more than a decade – Smit made his debut in 2000 and Matfield a year later.
Saru chose the moment of Smit’s departure to pay tribute to two the two greats, with Saru president Oregan Hoskins saying: “We have been privileged to have witnessed the careers of two undoubted legends of Springbok rugby in the past decade.
“They stood out as players from the day they first pulled on the Springbok jersey and over the years have been central to many of the most memorable occasions in the era of professional rugby.
“John provided outstanding leadership of the team throughout what have occasionally been turbulent times, while Victor was always a tower of strength – both literally and figuratively,” Hoskins said.
‘Set the bar incredibly high’
“As players, as leaders, and as men, they have set the bar incredibly high for succeeding generations and have been instrumental in the nation-building potential of the Springboks. And they will not be forgotten – part of their legacy is that they leave behind a model for discipline, leadership and professionalism of which they should be very proud.”
Smit said that the highlight of his 12-season Springbok career was being part of the nation-building force that he believes the Springboks have become.
“When you start out as a Springbok, it’s about proving that you’re good enough to be there,” he said. “But as you play more tests that feeling dissolves and you realise it’s not about you, it’s about standing up to the responsibility of what this team means to a country like South Africa.
“That’s my biggest highlight and what I’m most proud of. Many people would want me to talk about winning World Cups and Tri-Nations series and British & Irish Lions series – and those have been spectacular moments – but the highlight has been seeing the power that this team has developed to unite all South Africans.
“When I started playing for the Springboks, it wasn’t a uniting factor and the change has been amazing. People of all shapes and sizes, and all cultures and languages, have embraced this Springbok team. That has been an amazing experience and I’m grateful to have been part of that.”
Smit described team-mate and friend Victor Matfield as the greatest Springbok of all time following this year’s Rugby World Cup. Matfield’s 11-season test career saw him establish himself as arguably the greatest lock of his generation, while he was a commanding presence in domestic rugby, captaining the Bulls to three Vodacom Super Rugby titles.
Matfield said his time in the Springbok jersey had been nothing short of amazing and even though there were some less memorable moments, the bulk of his time in the green and gold would be remembered as some of the most special times in his career.
“I’ve been fortunate to have had such a blessed Springbok career,” he said. “Together with wonderful teammates and under great coaches, we’ve achieved quite a lot over the years.
‘Making SA the great country it is’
“Like John said, as the years went by we realised that we have a massive role to play in making South Africa the great country it is, and it’s these moments that I will never forget,” Matfield said.
“Games come and go and so too titles and trophies, but memories are forever, and to be part of a band of brothers that made history and made our fellow South Africans proud, is something I will cherish forever.
“It has been an unbelievable experience being part of building our great nation and bringing people closer to each other.”
Hoskins added: “John and Victor nobly served our game as players and leaders, and I hope for the sake of rugby in South Africa that they will not be lost to our game and, in due course, we will be able to tap into their enormous store of wisdom and knowledge about the game.”
Holds the record for most capped Springbok captain (83); most capped hooker (96); most capped Springbok in tests (111); holds world record for most capped captain in major international test matches (83).
Most capped Springbok lock (110); holds the world record with Bakkies Botha for most tests as a lock combination in the starting line-up (62).
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