Henry praises record-breaking Smit & NZPA
July 25, 2009
South Africa skipper John Smit talks to his players during training at Kings Park Stadium, Durban, South Africa, June 19, 2009
Graham Henry has praised the leadership of John Smit © Getty Images

All Blacks coach Graham Henry has showered praise on South African prop John Smit, who will become the most capped captain in Test rugby history when the teams square off in Durban this weekend.

Smit will lead the Springboks for the 60th time, surpassing the previous record shared by former England centre Will Carling and former Australia scrum-half George Gregan. Smit's Springboks will be looking to win back-to-back Tests against the All Blacks after their victory in Bloemfontein last weekend, and Henry can see why he heas become such an inspirational figure.

"He's a very successful international captain and has won a World Cup (in 2007) which we are very green about," he said. "He's a very fine player, he's highly respected by his players and he's a good bloke. He's a top man, so I can understand why he's (captained) 60 test matches and I can understand why the Springboks follow him. He's a top person."

Smit, 31, became the 50th man to lead his country in 2004 and has also gone on to compile 85 tests, the most by a South African forward. He was keen to brush aside plaudits saying the challenge of a more galvanised All Blacks team was occupying his mind.

"They'll be far better prepared. They are coming to a venue they are familiar with, they've become used to the time difference and have had a week to analyse what went wrong in Bloemfontein," he said. "It would be foolish to think they will bring the same level of intensity they did there. It'll be significantly more, and they'll be far better equipped for the challenge."

All Blacks forwards coach Steve Hansen hoped that one area where they would be better prepared was in the maul, admitting that stopping the Springboks was a big challenge.

"It's definitely a problem if we can't stop it," Hansen said. "South Africa are very good at what they do. You don't see many (New Zealand) provincial sides or franchise sides doing much of it. That's not the point. South Africa do and we've got to learn how to stop it and be successful at that."

However, Hansen also voiced concerns about how the maul was being interpreted by referees. He believed many allowed teams to get away with shepherding the ball carrier at the back of a drive, thereby giving the defending side no legal way of stopping it.

"The maul at the moment is something the IRB (International Rugby Board) are looking at very strongly," he said. "It's a unique thing in that it's the only time you're allowed to have legal obstruction. It's something that's probably one of the difficult things in the game at the moment. You've got to have mauling in the game but it's got to be a fair contest too."


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