Cheetahs CEO Harold Verster says the Bloemfontein franchise will attempt to keep Juan Smith in South Africa.
A fortnight ago, Springbok flank Smith confirmed to this site that he was working on his long-awaited comeback in 2013. The 31-year-old last played a Test in 2010 and missed the entire 2012 season because of a serious Achilles injury.
A week later, reports emerged that several French clubs were interested in recruiting the veteran, with Bayonne in pole position to land his signature. Bayonne already have five South Africans in their squad – locks Dewald Senekal and Rob Linde, flyhalf Jacques Louis-Potgieter, centre Sam Gerber and utility back Scott Spedding.
Verster said he was shocked by the news.
‘The Cheetahs have been in close contact with Juan,’ Verster told keo.co.za. ‘He is doing his recovery at our gyms and he’s working with our coaches and doctors, so we see him on a daily basis.
‘We are informed that he wants to make a comeback next year, and we do hope it’s with us. I had no clue about these French clubs who are interested in him, so I was surprised when I read the news in the paper. Maybe it’s these agents who are always trying to pull a fast one.’
Verster added that Smith is treasured at the Cheetahs.
‘He’s one of our champion players. He’s been our leader and a star performer for a very long time, and it would be amazing to have him back.
‘At this moment in time, we can’t confirm anything because he’s not 100% fit. But we’ll see how things go.’
When keo.co.za. attempted to contact Smith, he was unavailable for comment.
He did, however, reveal two weeks ago that he wanted to play Super Rugby for the Cheetahs and hoped to represent the Springboks again, if good enough. A move to France will decrease his chances of making a Test comeback.
By Gareth Duncan