Smit to face his former club in Heineken Cup

John Smit made his Heineken Cup debut for ASM Clermont Auvergne and now South Africa’s 2007 World Cup winning captain is poised to face his former club when Saracens go head to head with Clermont in their much anticipated Heineken Cup quarter-final clash at Vicarage Road on Sunday.

The former Springbok hooker made three Heineken Cup appearances for the French club in the 2007/08 campaign before returning to South Africa and ending his international career with his national record 111th cap in the World Cup quarter defeat by Australia last October.

He has appeared in five of Saracens’ Pool matches and next up is his old club for a prestigious semi-final spot.

“For me it is quite amazing that we play Clermont in the Heineken Cup quarters,” said the man who led his country a record 83 times, including the Test series win over the 2009 British and Irish Lions.

“Having played for them I could now be playing against them and since the quarter-finals were confirmed I have had quite a few chats to players and officials at Clermont. I still have a number of very good friends there and everyone is saying how it promises to be such a great rugby occasion.

“It is impossible to say who are their most dangerous players as they have so many, from captain Aurelien Rougerie, who is such a pillar of strength, to the likes of wing Julien Malzieu, back rower Julien Bonnaire to No 10 Brock James, who manages the game so well for them.

“Clermont have phenomenal players and have great financial backing, they invariably use their money well, buying just the right players who suit the club. They have an amazing structure from the academies up and an outstanding coaching staff, they are fully aware how developing players will fit in.

“What is so special about Clermont is the magnificent relationship between players and the supporters who pack the ground every weekend of a home match and are so passionate about the side being successful.

“From a player’s point of view that passion is a huge incentive to make every effort to help the team be successful and while the playing staff may have changed somewhat since I was there I know that the collective will to win will be just as strong with this squad as it was with the squad four years ago.”

Clermont have won their last 11 home Heineken Cup matches since losing to Sale Sharks in the opening Pool match in 2008, just one of five defeats in 27 home tournament matches, but as they celebrate their centenary this year, the club won’t need reminding that they have never reached a Heineken Cup semi-final.

“And having won the Top 14 title in 2010 will only make them all the more dangerous, they had such a long wait for that honour that is really was just about all they targeted in those seasons. I was in the team beaten 26-20 by Toulouse in 2008 so I guess I left them a bit early to be part of the squad that made club history,” added Smit.

“But now having got that first Top 14 final win with the 19-6 victory over Perpignan in 2010 they have widened their ambitions and now they want to win every tournament in which they play.

“It is fair to say they are now riding the crest of the wave and we know just how talented and dangerous a side we are up against in the quarters and that if we are to qualify for the semi-finals how we will have to perform at our very best on the day.

“But I am loving it with Saracens, I have been made so welcome, and thankfully I have enjoyed my Heineken Cup matches with them so much more than my debut for Clermont. It was against Munster in Limerick and it was horrible – we took virtually a B team and you can only say we had a really bad day in the office.”

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