Major injury blow: rival coaches agree loss of Juan Smith will hurt Boks’ chances

2011-08-19 00:00

RIVAL coaches Peter de Villiers and Graham Henry yesterday both agreed that the loss of lanky flank Juan Smith to injury was a major blow to the Springboks’ chances of retaining the Rugby World Cup.

Smith, who has been in a desperate race to overcome an Achilles’ tendon injury, has finally given up on his dream of playing in a second successive RWC.

“I am not 100%,” an emotional Smith told reporters yesterday. “I won’t be able to give everything and realise I should put my team, my fellow-players and the Bok fans first. I must stop lying to myself. I’ve been doing that these last three weeks, but now I realise that I’m not ready.”

“I really cannot describe how disappointed I am.”

De Villiers released Smith this week to play for the Free State Cheetahs against the Pumas tomorrow.

The Bok coach had hoped the 69-cap veteran would prove his fitness ahead of the announcement of the 30-man Springbok squad for the World Cup on Tuesday. But Smith failed a series of fitness tests with the Cheetahs on Wednesday and has now confirmed his withdrawal from the RWC.

“A fully fit Juan Smith would have been an enormous asset to our World Cup campaign,” De Villiers said yesterday. “This is a major disappointment to us.”

All Black coach Henry agreed that Smith would leave a massive hole in the Springbok squad.

“It will make a big impact on their campaign because he is a world-class player and to lose such an important member of the squad is always a big blow,” said Henry.

“He is a player the All Blacks really respect and he is also a top bloke. He will be a big loss.”

De Villiers said Smith’s decision to withdraw has confirmed the view of the Bok medical team.

“Juan has been in a race against time to be fit and out of respect for a great Springbok we were keen to give him every opportunity to prove that he could be available. He is understandably very disappointed, as are we, but he has made the right decision.”

Smith told reporters that he realised he just had to be honest with himself that he was struggling. “I’ve worked very hard to get back on the training field, but I am still some way from full fitness and have been training with quite a lot of pain …

“This is a big blow to me. The Rugby World Cup is the pinnacle of every player’s career.

“I was looking forward to our attempt to become the first team to defend the World Cup title.”

Smith will undergo an operation and then focus on returning for the Cheetahs in next year’s Super Rugby tournament.He is the second leading Springbok to be ruled out of the RWC following lock Andries Bekker’s withdrawal last month.

His loss limits De Villiers’ options in the backrow, denying him a hardworking forward who would have provided him with valuable possession at the tail of the lineout.

Flank Schalk Burger, who has played no rugby for two months because of a hand injury, will travel to the RWC and De Villiers is confident he will be ready to face Wales in the RWC opener.

Fellow-flank Heinrich Brüssow was rushed back into action against the Wallabies last week after a lengthy injury break, while burly Sharks backrower Willem Alberts, who has been troubled by a shoulder injury for the past three months, faces the most demanding of fitness tests when he charges headlong into the All Black pack in Port Elizabeth tomorrow.

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