A year ago, John Smit was contemplating his future, post-World Cup and it did not involve rugby. Now, the 2007 World Cup-winning Springbok captain is set to pen the final chapter in his stellar rugby career and it involves the small matter of playing for English champions Saracens.
The 111-cap veteran landed in London with his family on Tuesday to start a two-year contract at Saracens and we found the former Sharks stalwart in high spirits when he was unveiled to the English media the following day.
"Obviously I know a few of the boys here from South Africa, but I haven't even met all the guys yet... that'll have to wait until Thursday's first training sessions," he replied when asked about his new surroundings.
"It was a really easy trip over though," he added. "I was dreading the flight with two kids, but they slept virtually the whole way and we landed - with all our bags - and were whisked off with minimal fuss to start our new chapter at Saracens.
"It's been a busy day or two... but it could have been a lot more hectic!"
Whilst Smit's seamless arrival is certainly a good omen for life at Saracens, he is well aware - as one would expect - just what lies ahead for him, his wife and their children over the next two seasons.
"This is a great opportunity for me... and for my family," he told this website.
"A year ago I was ready to hang up my boots for good after the World Cup. I mean the last six or seven years have virtually been a matter of life or death for me in terms of results - as captain of the Sharks and the Springboks... I had a big responsibility.
"My previous stint abroad [at Clermont in France in the 2007/08 season] was an invaluable experience - for me and my family. Now, it's a bit different. For starters, my kids are at an age where they will remember this experience and will be richer for it as they grow up.
"However, for me, selfishly, it's another chance to play some rugby - but to worry about that only. I have a different job description [here] and I intend on enjoying myself and just contributing as much as I can but in a different way."
So, what then is his exact job description at Saracens... and for how long?
"Well, I signed for two years but right now I'm not thinking beyond the next month," he joked.
"Saracens' vision is to have two good players in every position - I'm joining the club as a hooker. A guy like [fellow South African hooker] Schalk Brits has played over 60 matches in his two years here, so I'll hopefully be able to help as they look to rotate their players during [what is] a long season.
"I'd love to play for as long as possible... but, like I said, I'm here for at least two years, so I'll just take things as it comes.
"Obviously, first and foremost I'd like to contribute as much as a player, but I'm also here to pass on as much experience as possible and, in the process, to make as much of a difference as possible."
Of course, the past few weeks have not been the most memorable for Smit - a proud Springbok and a record-breaking captain, player and South African - after the Boks were unable to defend their World Cup title in New Zealand.
Said Smit: "This move has probably helped me a bit... it's been a welcome distraction from the World Cup torment [after losing in the quarterfinals to the Wallabies earlier this month].
"Four years ago I was in a completely different frame of mind heading over to France and it would have been tougher for me heading to Saracens now as a World Cup winner - from an emotional point of view."
Smit expects to make his debut for Saracens at some point over the next fortnight - "the coaches want to get me up to date first" - but he is already eyeing a trip back to his homeland early next year when the English champs take their Heineken Cup tie against Biarritz to Cape Town in January 2012.
"It's an amazing, ground-breaking move," said Smit of his club's decision to move their Pool 5 meeting with their French opponents to a different continent.
"I don't think I've ever been to Cape Town in the middle of January," he chuckled, "normally we're stuck in 100% humidity in Durban doing Super Rugby pre-season work!
"Look, I won't lie, in-season trips to the Oktoberfest and Miami - not to mention watching boxing title fights, live - certainly didn't hinder my decision to come here, but this is dynamic club and taking that match to Cape Town is just another way to help build the Saracens brand outside of England."
By Howard Kahn
* This chat was made possible by Saracens Rugby Club. Simply 'like' the Saracens page on Facebook and you could win a Springbok jersey signed by John Smit himself!
** In Parts Two and Three of the interview you can find out what John Smit thinks about the Springboks - why their fourth-place ranking is a mockery and why the Bok coaching position is so crucial in a rugby-mad country like South Africa.
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