Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – SuperSport have confirmed that John Smit, captain of South Africa’s second World Cup-winning team in 2007, will be a key addition to their panel of experts for the Super Rugby 2019 campaign which begins this weekend.
There will be further new faces among the studio pundits in the form of both Ndungane twins, Odwa and Akona.
Some of the trio have made appearances in front of the SuperSport cameras before, but communications manager Clinton van der Berg said this season would mark more regular presences in each instance.
Smit is naturally the “biggest fish” to join the group of analysts, as skipper of the Bok side who won the Webb Ellis Cup at the French-staged RWC 2007, and holder of a mighty 111 Test caps between 2000 and 2011 – third only in South African history to Victor Matfield (127) and Bryan Habana (124).
Now 40, Smit becomes the third Bok with a three-figure tally of appearances to join the SuperSport ranks, as they already make routine use of the services of both Matfield and the 109-cap Jean de Villiers.
Traditionally articulate and approachable in his widespread media dealings, the former Sharks favourite – he has also had a period as CEO at Kings Park – is likely to be able to provide especially astute observations on front-row play, given his vast experience at both hooker and prop.
He led the Boks’ last title success in the Rugby Championship (then Tri-Nations) in 2009, and in the same year had captained their winning cause in the series against the British and Irish Lions.
Meanwhile the 37-year-old, Umtata-born Ndungane siblings – each primarily wings – will both bring an extraordinary wealth of first-class rugby knowledge to SuperSport’s live presentations, even if they represented the country considerably fewer times than Smit did: the mostly Bulls-orientated Akona got 11 Test caps and long-time Sharks stalwart Odwa nine.
Odwa had an especially marathon career, playing at first-class level for a rare 18 years between the 2000 and 2017 seasons.
His retirement was recent enough for him to still boast first-hand expertise on many active South African players, either as team-mates or opponents.
Although all three should enhance the studio match-day offerings, Van der Berg said SuperSport’s commentary teams at matches themselves would be largely unchanged.
*The organisation suffered awkward, lingering publicity last season when Bok wing Ashwin Willemse, whose contract has since been terminated, walked off the live set during analysis of a Super Rugby 2018 match, and claimed he had been “patronised” by high-profile colleagues Nick Mallett and Naas Botha.
A SuperSport inquiry chaired by advocate Vincent Maleka cleared Mallett and Botha of racism allegations after Willemse declined to participate in the probe.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing