Juan Smith was a giant of a Bok player. As a person he was even larger in stature. I’ll remember him for more than just being a great rugby player.
Smith quit the game today because he accepted his Achilles would continue to restrict his ability to deliver what his heart desired. He was honest with himself, which is the character that typified his time within rugby.
He has for me always been the unsung heroes of Bok rugby and was among the players of the tournament.
His desire to contribute to a successful Rugby World Cup challenge forced an early return to the field in 2011 but all it did was ensure he would not play at the highest level again.
There will be no bitterness from Smith. There will be no self pity. It is not his style.
Former Bok legend Andre Venter used to call him ‘Die Yster’; the man of steel.
Bob Skinstad, taking the DJ microphone in Tobby Joe’s in Port Elizabeth in 2003, told people that the Boks were in the VIP area and if there was only one player they should meet that night it was a player called Juan Smith.
‘This guy said Skinstad will become one of the greats of Bok rugby.’
Smith ruptured his Achilles in the opening round of the 2011 Super Rugby season.
He had four operations in the last 18 months to make it back and even though he played two of the Cheetahs Super Rugby pre-season games he said he knew the Achilles was too vulnerable to take the demands of professional rugby.
He told Die Volksblad Newspaper: ‘Were it not for the fans and my family, then I probably would have made the decision to retire much earlier. It was the fans who gave me the courage to – after several disappointing operations – attempt to make a comeback to the rugby field this year.
‘I appreciate all the support I received through the years from my family, Bok- and especially Free State supporters.’
He played 69 Tests and won the Tri Nations, the World Cup and the British and Irish Lions series.
By Mark Keohane