Cape Town - Legendary former Ireland and British Lions captain Willie John McBride has paid tribute to former Springbok captain and coach, Nelie Smith, who passed away at the age of 81 on Monday.
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McBride is well-known to South African rugby fans as the captain of the unbeaten British Lions team which toured these shores in 1974.
The Lions won 21 of their 22 matches on the tour - including a 3-0 series win over the Springboks. The final Test finished in a 13-all draw in Johannesburg.
McBride was saddened by the passing of Smith, who was a Springbok selector during the 1974 tour.
The former Irish lock sent a special message to Smith’s daughter Carin, when he heard of the news of her father’s passing:
So sad to learn of passing of my good friend Nelie who I have known since 1962. Nelie was such a sincere man and in my whole life I have never heard him criticise anyone. He came to my club Ballymena when I called and he did a terrific job in instilling a whole new attitude in our players. He never lost his enthusiasm for rugby right up until the end and doubtless our game is much poorer in that he is not with us any longer.
Willie John McBride.
Smith played seven Tests for the Springboks and captained them in four of those. His debut was in 1963 against Australia and his first Test as captain against France a year later.
He also captained the Springboks against Australia and New Zealand in 1965 and scored a try and three penalties for 12 Test points. Smith also played in 12 tour matches for South Africa.
As Springbok coach in 1980-81, Smith won 12 of 15 Tests.
He also served as a Springbok selector for a decade (1971-81).
At provincial level, Smith and Sakkie van Zyl coached Orange Free State to their first Currie Cup title in 1976.
Smith played for Free State in 60 matches between 1956 and 1965 and captained them in 37 matches. He also played for Griquas in four matches in 1966.
Smith also coached the likes of Eastern Province and Northern Free State as well as Ballymena and Rovigo in Ireland and Italy, respectively.
Smith is survived by daughters Carin, Annien and son Cornelius.