Outgoing South African captain John Smit paid an emotional tribute to fellow veteran Victor Matfield as "the greatest Springbok ever" after both players bowed out of the international stage at the World Cup in New Zealand.
After the crushing disappointment of their 11-9 quarterfinal defeat by Australia on Sunday, Smit said he was "devastated" to be stepping down after seven years as captain of the 2007 world champions.
But the 33-year-old hooker also stated he was proud to have played alongside the likes of Matfield, the 110-Test lock who deputised for him as skipper so often.
"I could sit here for an hour speaking about the value and contribution he has made to South Africa," Smit said after the match at Wellington Regional Stadium.
"Today, again, colossal in the line-outs, leadership sublime, always making sure the right calls are made, his composure. I think the most valuable thing about Victor is how he makes the players around him feel.
"When he's picked in the side, there's a calmness about him, a composure that he possesses, and hopefully the youngsters will have learned from that and will have taken it forward," he added.
Smit, who has played alongside Matfield in the Green and Gold jersey for the best part of a decade, said that the line-out ace is possibly the greatest player to have ever played for South Africa.
"He's a huge player. In my opinion, the greatest Springbok that's ever been," he said.
The team Smit led on to the Wellington pitch had accumulated 836 caps, making it the most-capped starting line-up in Test history.
As well as Smit and 34-year-old Matfield, the Springboks are likely to have seen the last of locks Bakkies Botha (aged 32) and 33-year-old Danie Rossouw. Before the tournament, scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, who is 29, also suggested it could be his last hurrah.
Smit, capped 111 times for South Africa, said: "I have been blessed to be in charge of these guys and run out with them and blessed to be captain of the Springboks.
"I am devastated today. It's the end of a chapter and I am proud of the guys I have played with and really proud to have been a Springbok," he added.
Matfield said: "I think I'm going to miss it. I love this game. It has been my life over the last 12 years, so it's going to be tough."
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