Smith was set to join the growing list of young South African rugby talent to have been lost to Australia when, as a member of the Queensland U18 side, he was chosen for Australian Schools.
Luckily, this time it was not the case as Smith’s family, who decided to experience life in Australia for a year, returned to South Africa and the 18-year-old went back to playing at Paarl Gymnasium.
In 2008, he was a member of Western Province’s U18 Craven Week team and his performances at the tournament earned him a place in the SA Schools side, a call-up he admits was a surprise.
‘It’s a really great honour and I didn’t expect to get chosen,’ says Smith. ‘There are about 20 great players in my position so I feel really privileged and lucky to get there.’
While he is happy to be back in South Africa, Smith admits he enjoyed his time in Australia and believes the experience has improved his overall game.
‘I really enjoyed my time over there. It’s very different, they have their own way of doing things and it’s very competitive but I picked up a lot of experience and it has made me a better player.’
Standing 1.90m tall and weighing 126kg, Smith is already an imposing figure.
For a big man, he has a great turn of pace and is very quick off the mark – making him extremely tough to bring down once he gets going.
His Paarl Gym coach, Nico Momsen, believes Smith is one of the most talented ball players he has ever seen at school level.
‘Ruan is certainly one of the most skilled props to have come through the ranks here at Paarl Gym, certainly in my years as coach,’ says Momsen. ‘His handling skills are as good, if not better than most backline players.’
For all his potential, Smith remains a level-headed young man and is well aware of where he could improve his game.
‘My tight phases are pretty good, and one of my strong points is my ball-carrying but there is some room for improvement, especially my fitness and my work rate at the breakdown.’
Momson believes we are yet to see the best of Smith and feels that if he is placed in a professional set-up and is nurtured, he will prove to be an unstoppable force.
‘If Ruan is taken into the right set-up and is conditioned perfectly, he will become a machine. I think he has got everything he needs to reach the highest level in South African rugby.’
Smith has signed a two-year contract with Western Province and will go straight into the Academy side when he finishes his matric year.