Will it be a case of “out of sight, out of mind” for stalwart Springbok flank Juan Smith when he finally returns to action?
Of course, much will dep-end on whether Smith actually does return to play again.
So bad is the achilles tendon injury that has ruled him out of the game for a year that there are increasing doubts that the 2007 World Cup-winning flank and Springbok stalwart since 2003 may in fact be done with the game.
But even if he isn’t and badly wants to return for one last hurrah, Smith may have to accept that his time with the Boks is over.
New Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, even though a stickler for keeping with the tried and tested and backing experience, may feel it is time to look forward and invest in someone else. Also, with so many quality youngsters doing the rounds in South African rugby at the moment, a fully-fit Smith may not even be good enough to force his way into a Bok team.
Yes, can you believe it, the man who’s played 69 Tests for the Boks and just about made the No7 jersey his own over the last eight years would face stiff competition were he fit right now, or even in a year’s time.
This is, of course, all conjecture as it’s not quite fair to judge a man who hasn’t played for a year, but the fact is, at 30 years of age, Smith is getting on a bit. And, his Achilles injury seems so bad that when, or if, he returns, he may simply not be the same player he was before the injury. Or, he may play through the pain and hold back – and for a player who’s always at the front line of the battle, playing half-heartedly is simply not on.
Smith picked up the injury in the early stages of last year’s Super Rugby campaign and while he worked hard to be fit for the World Cup later in the year, he made himself unavailable when selection came around, admitting he was in no position to play.
He had several sessions in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, in an effort to speed up recovery, and it was hoped he’d be ready for the start of this year’s Super Rugby competition. He failed to start the Cheetahs’ challenge however and this week said he’d sit out the year – in an effort to get fixed up 100 percent.
While his absence at the Cheetahs is hard felt, and Bok boss Meyer called his unavailability for the Test season “a massive setback” the man hurting the most right now will be Smith.
Every week he spends out of the game, opens the door for someone else – and right now there are several men knocking loudly for inclusion in a Bok pack later this year. Meyer knows this better than anyone, even if he may have stuck with a tested trio of Smith, Schalk Burger and Pierre Spies for the England series.
With Smith out, there’s a good chance Willem Alberts or Duane Vermeulen will get a more permanent look-in, but Burger (if fit, of course) can also play at blindside flank, with Heinrich Brüssow at openside.
Then there will be those saying young Bulls flank Jacques Potgieter deserves to be backed at a higher level, while let’s not forget about others such as Jean Deysel, Ashley Johnson, perhaps Derick Minnie, Marcell Coetzee or Joshua Strauss.
As much as Meyer respects and rates Smith – he was without doubt an option to be Bok captain – he will not be having any sleepless nights because the flanker is out for the year. His loose forward stocks are very healthy right now and they’ll still be that way in a year’s time.
Let’s hope South Africa and the rugby world hasn’t seen the last of Smith – arguably the best No7 in the game over the last six years – because if he was not able to call it quits on his terms it would be a huge injustice.