PRETORIA - Spare a thought for flank Roelof Smit. Sixteen months ago he was on the verge of making his Springbok debut in Europe, but injury struck and now he is fighting for his rugby career as he has to prove again that he is a worthy rugby player.
But Smit, 25, is no stranger to adversity and coming out of nowhere and that is how he is treating his second coming at the Bulls ahead of the new Super Rugby season.
After career-threatening injuries in the past year, Smit would have questioned whether he had chosen the right career path.
However, Smit is ready to fight for his place in the Bulls' Super Rugby starting team and ultimately the Springbok squad.
Achieving his dream of becoming a Bok may be the dark cloud that hovers over him but the happy-go-lucky Smit is only looking at getting through the Bulls' demanding training sessions and pre-season warm-ups after playing for 35 minutes on Saturday against the Sharks in Polokwane.
“Yes, it is always in the back of my head going back to where I used to be (with the Boks) but at the moment I am not putting pressure on myself and this weekend’s game was nice; I got 35 minutes,” said Smit, who is in line for a starting berth against the Stormers in Wellington on Saturday.
"I’m taking it game-by-game, session-by-session and I’m not thinking ahead too much. I don’t think it is good for you; I focus on the present and it will look after what is coming."
As painful a memory as it is for Smit to recall the handful of days to him making his Springbok debut, it is probably those emotions that will see him rekindle the hunger that made him the most talked-about open-side flank in the country and a solution to Bok rugby’s woes at the breakdown.
“I can remember that Monday morning when I spoke to coach Allister (Coetzee). He told me if everything went well I was probably going to start, I was the only open-side flanker in the group. It was tough to accept, it feels like yesterday, I can feel every emotion, but it is in the past."
It is almost a miracle that Smit finds himself on the rugby field again after the battering his body has taken in the past two years and much of his ability to come back from those injuries has been his mental strength.
“It is not what you want as a rugby player but injury is inevitable. Two in a row wasn’t easy to handle, especially mentally, but with the right people on your side you can come through easily.”
It will be that moment of uncertainty and the power of the mind that should get Smit through.
But that will depend on where his mind is and the effort he places in impressing Bulls boss John Mitchell in the same way the Bulls' season will come down to their mental strength on how eager they are to put a smile on the faces of their fans.
“At the moment I don’t know where I’m standing. It is quite tough, but if you want to play Super Rugby you have to out-think and out-play the opposition and that is how we train. He (Mitchell) helps us out a lot, especially mentally. He helps us through focussing on the right detail. I can positively say we are going somewhere,” Smit said.