Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske has no doubt Springbok loose forward Juan Smith can still play rugby at the very highest level.
But, said Drotske, he would have to prove over time he is completely healed from the Achilles tendon injury which forced him to retire from the game earlier this year.
The Springbok World Cup winner is reportedly in talks with French club Toulon, in a bid to end his career on his own terms.
He was understood to be undergoing fitness and medical tests at the club yesterday.
Smith missed the 2011 World Cup after spending nearly a year on the sidelines with an Achilles injury and announced a return to the game at the beginning of this season. He, however, aggravated the injury during pre-season, which forced him to give up the game completely.
While Drotske said yesterday he knew nothing of Smith’s plans to play in France, he said the flanker could yet make it at the highest level. “I knew nothing about his plans regarding France. I’ve had no contact with him for some time but I do know he has been working with the Cheetahs’ conditioning coach Neil du Plessis in a private capacity,” said Drotske.
“I have no doubt though Juan could play again, but that would depend on his being injury-free.
“He looked good and in top shape during our Super Rugby pre-season against the Bulls, but then rehurt himself. Everything depends on the Achilles whether he plays again or not.”
Drotske, meanwhile, has included axed Springbok prop Trevor Nyakane in his starting team for Friday’s Currie Cup match against the Sharks in Bloemfontein.
Nyakane was dropped from the Bok squad that is currently in Argentina preparing for Saturday’s Test after a series of disciplinary issues.
“We’ve had a few issues in the scrums so far, with the likes of Coenie Oosthuizen and Adriaan Strauss out of the picture, so Trevor will bring some stability and experience to the position,” explained Drotske.
“I’ve never had any problems with him, but the South African Rugby Union have been in contact with us and I understand their situation.”
Nyakane is also apparently unfit and carrying too much weight.
“You must remember that a front row forward’s fitness can go backwards very quickly if he doesn’t play regularly. I think that’s what might have happened with Trevor ... props need game-time on a regular basis,” said Drotske.
Nyakane will start at tighthead prop in one of several changes to the Cheetahs side that lost to Western Province last weekend. Lood de Jager and Oupa Mohoje are the new lock pairing, while Sarel Pretorius takes over at No 9 in place of Piet van Zyl, who has joined the Boks in Argentina.
“It’s a must-win game for us. It’s our first one at home and what I’ve realised so far is that you simply have to win at home,” said Drotske.
“This is short competition that’s going to be very tight at the end. All the home teams are under pressure each weekend.”
The Cheetahs opened their challenge with an away win against the Lions, but followed that up with a defeat at Newlands last weekend.
Cheetahs: Hennie Daniller, Riaan Smit, Johan Sadie, Robert Ebersohn, Raymond Rhule, Elgar Watts, Sarel Pretorius, Philip van der Walt, Lappies Labuschagne, Boom Prinsloo (capt), Lood de Jager, Oupa Mohoje, Trevor Nyakane, Hercu Liebenberg, Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: Ethienne Reynecke, Rossouw de Klerk, Freddie Ngoza, Davon Raubenheimer, Kevin Luiters, Willie du Plessis, Joubert Engelbrecht - The Star