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Farewell to the original warrior


Rugby players retire all the time, but it is not often that you will find the global rugby community express a collective sense of loss when a player decides to hang up his boots for good.

It was announced last night that South African loose-forward, Juan Smith, have decided to call it a day following yet another injury setback after a warm-up game against the Bulls over the weekend.  Smith has battled for two years to return to the rugby field after suffering an Achilles injury in a Super Rugby match in 2011.

Announcing his retirement Smith told Die Volksblad that the only thing that kept him going in the last two years and not throw in the towel earlier was his family and his supporters who encouraged him to regain full fitness and at least retire on his own terms – but it was not to be.

What struck me personally was the collective sense of loss from the rugby community from supporters to players past and present, not only from South Africa, but across the world.

Here you had a player who hardly set foot on a rugby pitch in 24 months, yet the sense of loss expressed by those who follow the game of rugby union was almost one of losing a family member, and given the general pettiness and deeply provincialistic nature of the South African rugby supporter you get a basic idea of just what an impact Juan Smith had on the game.

It left me wondering just what makes Juan Smith such a special rugby player, and the only real reason I could come up with was that he was a player that struck a deep, old-school type of chord with the general rugby fan.

You see Smith did not go to the right school in the South African rugby system where you generally get a free passage to Craven Week and subsequent higher rugby honours as is so often the case in this country, especially in a city like Bloemfontein where only one school in particular is known to produce quality rugby talent.

He came from a little known school called JMB Hertzog and only decided to take the game seriously when his rugby mentor, Tat Botha, convinced him to try out for the Bloemfontein University team the Shimlas.

From there Smith’s career gathered momentum where he made his Cheetah debut in 2002 and his Springbok debut a year later in 2003.  Sixty nine tests and 10 years later Smith will go down as one of the most respected, hard-working rugby players the South African game has ever produced.

Rugby scribes and players from all over the world were in one voice as they bid Smith farewell as a player and described him as one of the most vital cogs and one of the most physical players to play the game in any team he ever represented as a professional player.

In a world where it seems rugby players try harder to get their names and faces in newspapers and magazines than what they do to win games, I for one will miss one of the most honest individuals to ever set foot on a rugby field.

I mean does anyone for one second think that it is a mere co-incidence that the Pope decided to retire the same day Juan Smith decided to bid farewell to the game of rugby?  I think not…

Go well Juan, enjoy the time with your family now and thank you for all the memories.  And I am sure we will see your name somewhere down the line involved with rugby again.

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  1. Respect to a great warrior and servant of Springbok rugby who always gave it 100% no matter what the situation.

    He will be sorely missed by the Boks.

    Yet another hero of 2007 has left an indelible mark on world rugby and long may it be so.

  2. Not much more I can say really… other that it’s seemingly harder to let go for us fans than the legend himself… if only one more season at any level anywhere!

  3. Juan Smith se ryk oom gaan engeland toe, en Juan se vir ‘Stuur groete aand die Koningin.’ sy oom se toe hy sal, een aand saam met Tee in die paleis, se hy toe vir die Koningin Juan stuur groete. Geskok se sy ‘Nie Juan Smith die Rugby held van Bloemfontein af nie!!?’. Sy stuur toe n klomp geskenke vir Juan saam met sy oom.

    Daarna gaan sy Oom toe Amerika en Juan se ‘Stuur groete aan Barrack Obama.’. Weer se sy oom dis reg. In Amerika ontmoet sy oom toe vir Barrack en hy se toe Juan stuur groete. Barrack se toe, ‘Nie Juan Smith die rugby held van Bloemfontein nie?’. Stuur Barrack toe geskenke aan Juan saam.

    So paar maande later se sy Oom hy gaan Rome toe. Weer se Juan, stuur groete aan die Pope. Sy oom se toe nee wag, die moet ek sien, jy kom saam. So gese so gedaan. In Rome stap Juan toe uit saam die pous en waai vir crowd tydens n almintigge seremonie. Skielik hoor hulle n comotion en sien net ambulanse, Juan vind toe uit sy oom het n hartaanval gehad. Hy gaan toe Hospitaal toe en vra sy oom, wat gesond is, wat het gebeur?

    Sy oom antwoord, ‘Kyk die Koningin kon ek nog hanteer, Barrack Obama was moeilik, maar selfs dit kon ek hanteer, toe die Pous, dit was eers moeilik, maar wat my oor die edge gestoot het, was toe ons daar in die crowd staan en cheer, en n flippen Fransman vra my ‘Who is that guy in the window with Juan Smith?”.

    Goed gaan Juan, jy was en is n legend.

  4. Ek dink Juan was sekerlik DIE speler waaroor daar nooit verskille was oor sy insluiting nie. Selfs die wiepies het gebuig voor hom, sonder om hul eie scraps weereens te punt.

    Juan was ‘n werklike yster. Gaan ons hom onthou as ‘n legende?

    Waarskynlik nie. Ons mediawereld is in huidige tye so gevorderd. Ons sal Jan Ellis (RIP), as ‘n legende onthou omdat ons hom uit die ou tye onthou. Juan was dalk ‘n groter toegewyde speler, of kom ons se selfde as Jan Ellis. Maar ons het deesdae te veel plastic heros soos Batman om ‘n werklike held te erken. Jan kon in ons dae maklik Superman gewees het. Ek het hom goed geken (ek het ‘n kantoor in Bronkhorstspruit gehad. Dit was waar sy kinders skool gegaan het, en sy plaaslike dorp).

    Juan was nooit die publieke figuur wat Jan was nie. My hy was ‘n “true great”.

    Ons mis jou al klaar, Juan.

    Juan was vir my daardie werklike held.

  5. N ou waarmee ek gereeld gesels oor rugby wat in Engeland woon, vra my verlede jaar wie is my favourite Suid Afrikaanse Rugby speler, ek vra toe hoekom, he se nee hy wil vir my n’ skildeey maak van die speler.

    Ek se toe vir hom Juan Smith want as daar nou een ou is wat vir my die toppunt van n’ suid afrikaanse rugby speler is dan is dit Juan Smith.

    Lojaal soos jy kan kry aan die Cheetahs, humble, opreg, errlik, hardwerkend en inspirerend vir sy span maats.

    Die “painting” hang nou in my kantoor.

    Sterkte met jou pad voerentoe Juan, Ek het net respek vir wat jy beteken het vir Cheetah en SA rugby.