21 August 2014
Juan Smith will complete a remarkable return to international rugby when he runs out for the Springboks against Argentina in Salta on Saturday, in the second test of the Castle Lager Incoming Series.
After suffering a serious Achilles tendon injury, which caused him to miss the 2011 Tri-Nations Championship and Rugby World Cup, Smith took a break from rugby in 2012 after undergoing four operations on the injury.
He returned to action in February 2013, playing in a pre-season game for the Cheetahs, but after an MRI scan he announced his retirement from the sport after the match.
In September 2013, Smith came out of retirement to join French club Toulon, home to a number of South African players. Since then, he has been widely praised for the excellence of his performances, which led to his recall to the Springbok team.
His inclusion at flank is one of three changes to the starting XV, with a further four changes on the bench.
Gurthro Steenkamp (prop) and Eben Etzebeth (lock) will start in the tight five, with Tendai Mtawarira and Bakkies Botha moving to the bench. Marcell Coetzee will join them among the replacements after coming into the starting line-up as a late substitute for the injured Willem Alberts last weekend in Pretoria.
The final change to the team, which beat Argentina by 13-6 at Loftus Versfeld, is the inclusion of Lwazi Mvovo on the bench.
‘A great opportunity’
“We have a couple of options at blindside flank, but we’ve decided that this will be a great opportunity to give Juan a chance,” Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said in a statement.
“If it wasn’t for an injury, which kept him out in June, he would’ve played a part in the Castle Lager Incoming Series. He was one of Toulon’s best players after more than two years out of the game and helped them to win two major competitions.
“Apart from experience and leadership, Juan is a superb ball-carrier and also brilliant at the back of the lineouts, where we missed Willem Alberts last week. Our lineouts are an important attacking platform and we need to improve this week. I’m sure Juan will add another dimension.”
Commenting on the other changes to the Springbok team, Meyer added: “It’s also wonderful to have Eben back to full fitness and he’ll slot in at lock without any problems.
“‘Beast’ recently returned from an injury, which kept him out for some time, and it was decided to rotate him and Gurthro mainly because of the short turn-around after our travel to Argentina.”
New venue for Springboks
Saturday’s test will be the Springboks’ first visit to Salta, in the north west of Argentina.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge. Although we were happy with the result in Pretoria, we were not happy with the performance and this is an opportunity to show improvement against a tough opponent away from home,” said Meyer.
The Springboks are top of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship standings after the first round of matches. In their first round clash in Sydney, Australia and New Zealand drew 12-12.