Smit keen to make mark in HK
South African legend John Smit happily cut an anonymous figure at the Happy Valley races on Wednesday night, but that won't be the case tomorrow when the 2007 World Cup-winning captain stars for the Saracens against the BGC APBs in the Chartis Cup.
Smit, who retired from test rugby after last year's World Cup in New Zealand, is visiting Hong Kong and Asia for the first time.
He was pleasantly surprised to find no one recognised him as he and some of his Saracens teammates enjoyed a pint or two at the city track's popular beer garden.
'We went straight to the races soon after arriving. No one knew who I was. It was pretty good to be anonymous, just nice and refreshing to be a normal guy in the crowd,' laughed Smit, who won 111 caps for South Africa, 83 of them as captain.
'Five or six of us clubbed together HK$100 each and put it all on the hot tip in the third race,' he said. 'And guess what? Nothing! So the message is, horse racing still doesn't pay.'
It might seem strange, after all these years, for Smit to be missing from the line-up when the Springboks take on England in Durban tomorrow, but he will be watching closely as the side open a new chapter in their history.
The Springboks have a new coach, Heyneke Meyer, and a new-look team, but Smit believes they will stick to the same game plan, relying on the physicality of a big and powerful squad.
'I don't think we will see anything different coming out of South Africa in the next couple of years, which in my mind is a good thing,' Smit, 34, said. 'We do certain things very well and I'm pretty sure he will make sure things remain the same.
'But a lot will depend on our new locks combination. We have gone from having two players, Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield, who played together for 150 caps plus, to having two guys making their debuts.
'These guys have proven themselves in Super 15, but they will be one of the key elements if we are to be successful.'
South Africa will start with Eben Etzebeth and Juandre Kruger in the second row, and they are among a host of new faces in the pack.
'I'm obviously biased and will always back the Boks because of my history with them. Hopefully, they will win the series, otherwise it's going to be a long season for me in London,' said Smit, who joined Saracens last November on an 18-month contract.
Organisers are banking on Smit's star power, among a raft of other big names, to pull in the fans tomorrow at Hong Kong Stadium when the Saracens play the BGC APBs (formerly the Asia Pacific Barbarians). Only 5,000 tickets have been sold, the majority to rugby club members.
'We hope as many people as possible will come and watch,' said chief organiser Jon Phelps. 'They are world-class players. We have the Saracens, a well-recognised club side, and the first English Premiership team to visit Hong Kong. We have a world-class APB side and we will have three centurions on the pitch.'The other two players with more than 100 appearances for their country are All Black fullback Mils Muliaina and Wales flanker Martyn Williams, who will both turn out for the APBs.
A share of the proceeds will go towards building schools in areas affected by the floods in Thailand last year. In 2011, US$50,000 was raised through the inaugural APBs game against a World XV.
Tickets are HK$300 for adults and HK$50 for children. The stadium box office will be open from 9am with the action on the pitch starting an hour later with mini-rugby.