Johannesburg - Springbok captain Jean de Villiers has praised the move to bring veteran flank Juan Smith back into the Springbok squad for the Rugby Championship, calling it an 'unbelievable' story.
The supersport.com website reports that Smith – who was told by more than one doctor that his rugby career was over – was included as cover for the injured Victor Matfield in the Bok squad this week ahead of next weekend’s opener against Argentina at Loftus Versfeld.
After getting a second chance at Toulon, Smith turned the opportunity into gold with the way he used his new lease on life to craft his way into the Toulon squad and was an integral part in their success in Europe this year.
And now that he has been given another lifeline at the Boks – after playing a massive part in their Rugby World Cup win in 2007, Smith is keen to take it with both hands.
De Villiers is just as excited to see him back.
"What a story," the Bok captain said.
"I remember him handing over the jerseys last year in Nelspruit.
"You could just see the determination in his mind.
"He felt at that stage he still had a lot to give and it was still unfinished business for him, even though a lot of people wrote him off and said he would never play again.
"To see the rugby he was playing at Toulon and to have him back in the squad is just unbelievable.
"He is a great player, a great person as well and a great story to tell."
Smith comes in to cover flank and lock in Matfield’s absence and while some eyebrows may be raised with his return, the 69 Test veteran will tick many of the boxes that coach Heyneke Meyer wants him to while also adding a wealth of experience to the squad.
Earlier Meyer said Smith will be ideal cover for the squad at the moment.
"Our need at this stage is to draft in a player who can cover lock and loose forward, and we feel Juan is the right man for the job," said Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.
"He has played lock before in his career and won an Under-21 World Cup in that position, but he also covers flank and No 8.
"I spoke to him on various occasions and he’s comfortable with playing in the second row again if the need arises.
"However, as a number of our loose forwards have had a very high work load this season, it’s good to have someone such as Juan who can also provide cover in those positions.
"Furthermore he is a brilliant exponent in the lineouts and will bring experience and leadership to the squad.
"We wanted to involve him in June as I really want to work with him, but he was not 100% fit and asked not to be considered.
"Juan has been in sublime form and recently won the very tough French Top 14 league and the Heineken Cup with Toulon.
"I’ve always held him in very high esteem and I know he will add value to our squad."
Smith will join the Springboks in Johannesburg on Thursday.