New Zealand v South Africa, Tri-Nations, September 12
Smit plays the peacemaker - again
September 11, 2009

South Africa captain John Smit set about repairing bridges on his arrival in New Zealand ahead of their Tri-Nations showdown with the All Blacks.

Springboks coach Peter de Villiers courted controversy this week by opting to base his side in Australia for much of their build up to Saturday's clash citing his belief that there was nothing for his squad to do in Hamilton.

De Villiers' comments prompted widespread indignation, even from New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, but Smit was quick put out fires lit by his outspoken coach. Asked whether the city had "embraced" the Springboks, Smit said, "Absolutely ... whenever we get here we are well treated. The people enjoy having us and we enjoy being here."

De Villiers lit another spark following last week's 21-6 loss to Australia in Brisbane by claiming that referees are now biased against his team because of their world No.1 status.

A clear giveaway was the body language of officials when awarding penalties against the Springboks, he said. Smit did not believe his team were being targeted but was careful not to contradict his coach as his side target the victory that would bring them the Tri-Nations crown for the first time since 2004.

"I don't think we've ever seen a player play the perfect game, not miss a kick, not miss a throw, have a game full of good scrums and the same can be said of referees," Smit said. "They've got a pretty stern challenge. The important thing to know is that we wouldn't be able to do what we do if it wasn't for their application and their passion to do what they do."

The venue for Saturday's is also linked with controversy dating back to the Springboks' ill-fated tour in 1981. The scheduled clash against Waikato at Rugby Park, now Waikato Stadium, never took place after hundreds of apartheid protesters stormed the field prior to kick-off.

The tour proved to be one of the most divisive events in New Zealand history with protests staged right around the country as a large section of the population showed their opposition to the New Zealand Rugby Union maintaining ties with a country which legislated on the basis of colour. But following the dismantling of apartheid, South Africa were welcomed back into the international fold in 1992 and two years later they toured New Zealand again where they beat Waikato 38-17 in Hamilton.

This Saturday, Waikato Stadium will host its first Test match between two of rugby's biggest nations and Smit said it would be a chance to celebrate the progress South Africa has made since the dark days of apartheid.

"We've got an opportunity to be able to celebrate how far we've come since '81 as a country. To be able to celebrate that, there's no better way than using rugby and playing for our country against the All Blacks who are the greatest foe.

"It's a wonderfully positive thing to be able to do so and see just how far as a country we've come in such a short period of time. By focusing solely on the game and each other and representing our country that will be testament to the direction we've taken as a country since that time."


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