Tributes flow in for Juan
Tributes have been pouring in for Springbok Juan Smith, who was forced to announce his retirement after a recurring Achilles strain.
Smith, who was part of the World Cup-winning Springbok team in 2007, decided to retire after suffering the same injury playing for the Cheetahs in their pre-season friendly against the Bulls in Polokwane on the weekend.
His decision was treated with shock and sadness, as both the Cheetahs and Saru stepped up to pay tribute to the 69-test veteran.
“Juan was at his best undoubtedly the best number 7 flank in South Africa and in the world. To lose him is a massive loss for South Africa and Cheetah rugby,” Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske told supersport.com.
Smith played in 69 tests for the Springboks. He was part of the Rugby World Cup-winning squad in 2007, won the Tri-Nations (2009) and was a member of the Bok squad that overcame the British & Irish Lions in 2009. In 2002, Smith was one of the stars of the South African under-21 team that won the IRB Under-21 World Cup on home soil.
Smith also enjoyed success at provincial level with the Toyota Free State Cheetahs when they won the Absa Currie Cup in 2005.
“This is a disappointing day for rugby as we see one of the greats of modern Springbok rugby go into retirement,” said Oregan Hoskins, Saru President.
“Juan was a vital cog for every team in which he played and he will be sorely missed, not only by the Springboks, but also by the Cheetahs.
“As one of the hard men of South African rugby, Juan distinguished himself as someone that always put the team first. He wasn’t someone who looked for glory, but knew what was needed to get the job done. He never gave less than his very best.
“We wish Juan all the best for his future and hope to still see him involved in rugby in some way. Thank you for your great service to rugby in South Africa in the past 10 years.”
Bulls captain Pierre Spies called Smith a legend after forming a formidable loose trio with Smith and Schalk Burger.
“Juan Smith retires: He will be remembered as a Springbok legend and hard-man. Someone I respect and have learned so much from.God bless u!”
Smith’s former Cheetahs and Bok teammate Flip van der Merwe added his voice as well.
“Good luck to Juan Smith on his retirement, he was an inspiration and role model of a rugby player, husband and man!! All of the best!”
Smith injured his Achilles early in 2011 and underwent four operations in the past two years to correct the problem.
Apart from his 69 tests and two non-tests for South Africa, currently the 11th most by any Springbok, Smith also played in 41 matches for the Toyota Free State Cheetahs, 32 Super 12 matches for the Cats and 47 Vodacom Super Rugby matches for the Toyota Cheetahs. He played a total of 198 First Class matches throughout his career, which spanned 10 seasons.
Smith made his test debut on 7 June 2003 against Scotland in Durban and played his last test on 27 November 2010 against England at Twickenham. He played in two Rugby World Cup tournaments (2003 and 2007) and was also nominated as the SA Rugby Player of the Year in those seasons.
Smith told Die Volksblad the decision felt “like death” when he was given the news.
"The worst thing is that I didn't take the decision by myself... it was done for me. And that makes it like death for me," Smith told the newspaper.
He was very thankful to the support he received through the years in Bloemfontein.
"Free State rugby has always been very good for me. Yes I may not have earned the biggest salary here (Bloemfontein), but I was really happy on the playing field. They looked after me well and it's something I am extremely grateful for.
"I could have earned more money at various other places, but it's here where I was happy. I made unbelievable fiends in my rugby career and will really miss the camaraderie," said Smith.