Pretoria - Bulls flank Roelof Smit may have been forgotten after his breakthrough season in 2016, but the opensider is ready to make sure he is remembered again.
He laughs when asked about his nickname - “McCaw” - after the famous All Black fetcher and captain Richie but with a playing style similar and a penchant for stealing ball on the ground, Smit was seen as one of the rising stars of South African rugby.
“That’s still my nickname,” he told SuperSport.com.
“I’ve just got to remind people why again.”
Smit, 25, returned to action this past weekend for the Bulls after two horror injuries that kept him off the field for more than a year. And the timing couldn’t have been worse. Having starred in the Springboks’ game against the Barbarians at Wembley Stadium in November 2016, he tore his pectoral muscle on the Monday after the game, resulting in a six month stint on the sidelines.
And just when he returned to action in the SuperSport Challenge, Smit made it on to the field for eight minutes before receiving a tackle that tore his MCL ligament and left him on the sidelines again in frustrating fashion.
This past weekend he made it back on to the field in the pre-season jaunt against the Sharks in Polokwane and is smiling again, looking forward to a good 2018 season where he can remind everybody why he is so highly rated by his coaching staff across the board.
Smit is philosophical about the injuries, but admits it was tough to get through it all.
“It is not what you want as a rugby player, but I always say to myself it is inevitable, injuries are going to happen, and it depends how you come back and how you treat it. Two in a row wasn’t easy to handle, especially mentally but I think I came through it, and with the right people on your side you can come through it easily,” he explains.
“I can still remember speaking to coach Allister (Coetzee, Springbok coach), he told me if things went well that week, on the Monday morning, that I probably would start, because I was the only openside fetcher in the group. It was tough to accept, it feels like yesterday, I can still remember every emotion but luckily it is in the past now."
Smit admits he thought about the injuries when he made his playing return.
“It is always in the back of my mind, going back where I have been, but at the moment I am not putting a lot of pressure on myself. This weekend’s game was nice, I got 35 minutes,” he smiles.
“I’m taking it game by game, and session by session. I’m not thinking too much, I don’t think it is good for you, rather focus on the present and it will look after what is coming.
“I’ve never had two injuries so close together and people can say what they want, but it definitely has an influence on you. I can remember when I went on, I was a bit scared, you watch for too much contact, but I think that is normal.
“I tell most of the coaches and the conditioners now that I’ve played my first game back, the mountain is off my shoulders and now I can focus. I’m glad that first one is behind me because that was on my mind the whole time. I’m glad it’s over.”
While the training regime under John Mitchell has been tough, it has been good for Smit as it has challenged him and he can see the positives coming out of the Bulls camp.
“Where I am standing now, I’m stressing for this afternoon’s session because it is quite tough, but if you want to play Super Rugby then you have to have hard work and outplay the opposition, and that is how we train.
“With him here, everything is new and it is difficult to adapt, but he helps us a lot, especially mentally, working through it and focusing on the right details. I can positively say we are going somewhere.
“I remember before I was injured I weighed 106kg, and in the prime of the injury I was around 116, 117kg. I weigh 105kg again. I think it counts but with the way we play at the moment, the lighter I am, the better. Otherwise you won’t keep up. We train hard, we eat well and we do all things well, so hopefully it will show shortly.”
Smit hasn’t spent a lot of time on the field of late and he is looking to change that. And hopefully if his injuries stay a thing of the past, he will be able to remind everyone once again how he got his nickname, and hopefully make a similar impact as well on the field.