Cape Town – It’s not in the immediate pipeline and might take a fair old tally of injuries for him to get a recall, but Juan Smith adds an intriguing element to the “veterans club” bidding to squeeze in one more World Cup for the Springboks in 2015.
If the 37-year-old Victor Matfield, 33-year-old Jean de Villiers, 32-year-old Fourie du Preez and one or two other thirtysomethings can find themselves right in the frame for the tournament, then why not the tough-as-teak former Cheetahs flank favourite, 32?
Never forget that another Bloemfontein-based cult figure, Os du Randt, came out of injury-enforced retirement, and a little against the odds, to add a 2007 World Cup winner’s medal to his maiden one achieved a whole 12 years earlier.
In the case of Smith, who has somehow clawed back from a handful of Achilles tendon operations and once gloomy pronouncements on his future playing prospects, he would be having a stab at his own second hoisting of the Webb Ellis Cup only eight years apart.
An unassuming, likeable character for whom team ethic is truly tops, the lanky but powerful blindsider has earned rich laurels in the English media for his influential performance in Toulon’s Heineken Cup final victory over Saracens – an affair liberally spiced with South Africans – at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
Smith, who earned 69 Bok caps between 2003 and 2010, and had some two and a half years out of action after rupturing his Achilles in a Super Rugby match against the Bulls in early 2011, has been slowly building a fresh head of personal steam for his French club.
But he hit an exquisitely-timed peak in the European showpiece, after which the London-based Daily Telegraph (www.telegraph.co.uk) gave him top match rating for Toulon of nine out of 10, saying: “One brilliant tackle on Billy Vunipola to dislodge the ball typified his hard-hitting display and (he) relished a head-to-head with Jacques Burger. Thoroughly deserved his try.”
In the same paper’s match report, writer Steve James described his performance as “mountainous”.
Smith was responsible for one of the otherwise brutal match’s most fluid moments when he was involved in some slick interplay out wide - after collecting an awkward pass from burly centre Mathieu Bastareaud slightly behind his back - before surging over elegantly for Toulon’s second try.
There was further praise for Smith from veteran critic Eddie Butler of The Guardian: “A special word for Juan Smith, the former Springbok, who was brilliant throughout.
“When confrontation was the sole order of the day, he made as many tackles as anyone, most of them bone-jarringly effective.
“But when the hermetically sealed stadium allowed a gasp of artfulness to seep in, Smith was there, passing, interchanging, alert.”
Willem Alberts is the incumbent Bok No 7 flank and a pretty routine pick by coach Heyneke Meyer.
The “Bone Collector” is a particular handful with ball in his grasp at close quarters and for huge tackles, but the seasoned Smith may well still have an edge over him as an overall “skills package” and also as a world-class lineout forward.
A little further down the line, watch this space?
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