Smit ready for the deep end

It’s been a roller-coaster few weeks for Springbok captain John Smit, who is preparing for a possible full debut for Clermont Auvergne against Munster in the Heineken Cup on Sunday.

Since lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in Paris four weeks ago, the former Shark has had little time to reflect on the new challenges that await him as he begins his new life in central France with Clermont Auvergne.

A move to foreign shores with the additional pressures of acquiring a new language can be a daunting prospect for anybody at the best of times but the learning curve for a professional rugby player is another story altogether.

As if that wasn’t enough, his full debut for the Auvergnats could come in the Thomond Park bear-pit in Munster.

“At the start, the language feels just like noise,” admitted the 29-year-old.

“When I first arrived for training, I was just hoping to not get in the way.

“But the club has set up daily intensive French lessons for me so it won’t be long before I get into the language and get the numbers down to a tee which is obviously needed for the line-outs. Clermont though, is pretty international so quite a few of the boys speak English.”

No language problems were evident last weekend when Smit made his debut as a replacement for Mario Ledesma in Clermont’s seven-try dismissal of Llanelli Scarlets.

His immediate impression of northern hemisphere rugby was positive, though he was hesitant in drawing a distinction between Super 14 rugby and the Heineken Cup.

“I keep getting asked this question,” joked Smit.

“Rugby around the world is built on the same things. You want to see speed, skill, you want to see good physicality and you want to see good set pieces.

“I experienced in my twenty minutes on the pitch some of best rugby that I’ve ever seen. Defence, scrums, line-outs were all played out at spectacular speed which almost intimidates you as a player, so for me it was awesome.”

This weekend promises to be no different as Clermont travel to Thomond Park for their Sunday showdown with Munster. It’s a must-win game for the 2006 champions, whose last appearance at the venue coincided with their first ever defeat there at the hands of Leicester Tigers in January.

“I’m really looking forward to the trip to Limerick,” said Smit.

“Obviously, I’ve heard a lot about Munster as a team and their supporters over the last few years.

“The Munster jersey is the second most popular jersey in world rugby to an All Black jersey so I can only imagine what the atmosphere will be like at the weekend,” he added.

Clermont coach Vern Cotter was under no illusions about the task that lay in wait for his side.

“It wasn’t a perfect game against the Scarlets and we did make mistakes. Obviously, Munster would have seen them and they’ll be looking for opportunities against us,” said Cotter.

“We have a massive amount of respect for them and for what they’ve done and for what they’re capable of doing on the day so we’ll have to be on our game if we want to be competing because things can happen very quickly in the Heineken Cup.

“We have to be conscious of the fact that they have threats everywhere on the paddock and we have to shut that down but at the same time get enough quality ball to produce something of our own.

“Against a team like Munster, it’s not quite as easy as writing it down on a piece of paper.

“We’ll have to roll our sleeves up and make the hard yards because a team like Munster doesn’t let teams score points easily.

“They certainly throw their bodies around in a manner which discourages you from attacking them so it’s going to be a very tough game.

“When they get the ball, they apply a lot of pressure. We have to make sure that we’ll be able to take it.”

Before that battle commences, Cotter faces another difficult choice in deciding betwe

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