The hooker's recent form and the rise to prominence of rival Bismarck du Plessis had fuelled speculation that he could be replaced [GALLO/GETTY]
John Smit was retained as Springboks captain for this year's Tri-Nations and World Cup on Monday after coach Peter de Villiers warned you throw away experience "at your peril.''
South Africa has been faced with a major dilemma over the 102-Test veteran, the most experienced skipper in the history of international rugby but who is no longer an automatic choice for his country in his favoured
But De Villiers said the 33-year-old Smit would lead the team for an eighth successive season, which will include the defence of the Boks' World Cup title in New Zealand.
Lock Victor Matfield, also 33 and South Africa's most capped player ever, remains as vice captain as De Villiers kept faith with his two veteran leaders - who have played over 200 Tests between them.
"John and Victor have an unbelievable amount of experience and we're fortunate to be able to name them as captain and vice captain,'' De Villiers said in a South African Rugby Union statement.
"They are outstanding players in their positions and to have both still available in a Rugby World Cup year is a great boost for South African rugby.
"They are hugely respected in world rugby and have a massive influence on the teams in which they play.''
De Villiers made the announcement following a two-day Springbok planning meeting in Cape Town involving 51 of the country's leading players.
Smit made his debut in 2000 and has been South Africa's captain since 2004, leading his country in 76 Tests - an international record.
He led the Springboks to World Cup glory in France in 2007 and hopes to become the first captain, and South Africa the first country, to successfully defend the title at the September 9-October 23 showpiece tournament.
"The responsibility comes with a great deal of pressure and expectation, but it never loses the thrill or the sense of privilege that comes with it," Smit said.
"I'm humbled by the faith the coach has placed in me and the duty to our country that comes with it.''
The Boks captain is under pressure for his place in the team.
Bismarck du Plessis is considered by many to be a better hooker, forcing Smit to have been shifted to prop for the Springboks and Super 15 team the Sharks to accommodate him.
This season, De Villiers has said he will only consider Smit at hooker for the Boks as he has a string of specialist props available.
The Springboks coach also met with Sharks boss John Plumtree over Smit, and the Boks skipper has played the last two Super 15 games for the Durban-based Sharks at hooker in place of Du Plessis.
The question of where, and if, to play Smit - whose leadership ability is still seen as vital to the Springboks' hopes - has dominated much of the early season rugby talk and media coverage in South Africa.
South Africa and De Villiers were also wary of dropping Smit after former coach Nick Mallett axed regular captain Gary Teichmann just before the 1999 World Cup - where South Africa was also the defending champion.
Mallett's move was heavily criticised and the Springboks lost in the semifinals. Mallett admitted recently that he probably made a mistake to leave out Teichmann.
"History has shown that teams that do well at Rugby World Cups have experience and outstanding leadership,'' De Villiers said, adding "and we've learnt in the past that you throw away that experience at your peril.''
South Africa will bring together its top players for two more national planning meetings in June ahead of the July start of the Tri-Nations tournament, which also involves Australia and World Cup host and favourite New Zealand.
Defending champion South Africa announces its World Cup squad on August 23.