Fourie a ‘wizard’ - Nelie Smith

Nelie Smith (Gallo Images)
Nelie Smith (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Fourie du Preez remains possibly the premier scrumhalf in the current international game, says former Springbok coach and No 9 Test representative of yesteryear Nelie Smith.

Smith, now 79, is joining up with a roughly 20-strong group of Bok and Wallabies players from the 1963 South Africa-hosted series between the two for a 50th-year reunion weekend, including attendance of Saturday’s Castle Rugby Championship Test at Newlands (17:00 kick-off).

He made his Bok debut during the enthralling series, shared 2-2 after the home nation had led 1-0 and then trailed 2-1, before earning a thumping 22-6 victory in Port Elizabeth to finally level matters.

The Wallabies of that period were led by John Thornett and had legendary Ken Catchpole as Smith’s opposite number at scrumhalf.

According to Smith, Bok midfielder John Gainsford, who earned 33 caps (a big tally at the time) between 1960 and 1967, has been a key facilitator of the get-together, which will also feature household domestic names like Abie Malan, Hannes Marais and Tommy Bedford.

Bloemfontein-born Smith, who later coached South Africa in the pretty tumultuous period between 1980 and 1981, is hugely looking forward to the Newlands spectacle, though cautioning: “Never write off any Wallabies team.

“I believe it is fair to say we will be considered by far the favourites, but miracles do happen in rugby and Australia are an intensely competitive sporting nation - just like we are.

“What I like about the current Bok team, under Jean de Villiers’s leadership, is that they come across as humble and friendly, their feet healthily on the ground. Credit must go to the management and coaching staff as well.”

He is also happy to see veteran Fourie du Preez back as starting scrumhalf for the first time since the 2011 World Cup.

“He’s been a wizard on the field, and that doesn’t seem to have changed if you judge his performance off the bench against Argentina a few weeks ago.

“Fourie is a great thinker and all-round presence on the field - his observance of situations is tremendous. Throw in his strong passing and tactical kicking and he is still best in the world, by my book.

“I rated (Welsh great) Gareth Edwards the best of the amateur era in Test rugby, Joost van der Westhuizen was hard to top in the phase not long after we came back (from isolation), and since then it’s been Du Preez, for me.”

Smith says he is proud to have hailed from a playing era when “you always got together socially with your opponents and there was no such thing as an arch-enemy.

“Friendships were everlasting; the kind of thing money can’t buy. The great camaraderie between us and (the 1963 Aussies) exists to this day.”

Among activities planned for the 1963 opponents and friends is a winelands visit to a home rugby museum established by ardent rugby enthusiast Theo Geustyn.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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