In March I interviewed Juan Smith for Varsity Cup. One of the greatest South Africans I’ve ever had a pleasure of speaking to. He was friendly, extremely funny and I only crapped at myself once or two times – Hello00 this is thee Juan Smith I was speaking to. 😛
Anyway, this interview was about his time at Shimlas, but 2011 World Cup came up and he beamed with confidence and undoubtedly told me he would be wearing the no.7 jersey for the Boks once again. I have been a fan for a number of years, so when he withdrew himself from the squad I shed a tear. Though many may not admit this is a great loss for PDivvy’s RWC side – this man’s absence will be felt. Yes we have the likes of Willem Alberts and with the right combination- there’s Jean Deysel as a possible go to person, however this will be a tricky task for SARU.
Here’s out chat
Alumni Q&A: Juan Smith
Thursday, 31 March 2011 14:43
The most underrated member of the all-conquering Springbok teams of 2007 and 2009, Juan Smith also happens to be a true-blue Shimla. We spoke to him about university… rugby… and his future.
A crucial member of the 2007 Rugby World Cup squad, Springbok flanker Juan Smith made his international debut for South Africa in June 2003 as a reserve against Scotland.
The following week he was named in the Boks’ starting XV for the second Scottish Test and later played as the Test No.8 during the 2003 Tri-Nations, also going to the World Cup in Australia when the Boks lost in the quarterfinals to New Zealand.
Today, the captain of the Cheetahs’ name is synonymous with South African – and world – rugby, having won 69 caps and been part of Tri-Nations-winning, World Cup-winning and British Lions-conquering Bok squads.
Having played for the Shimlas up until 2002, he is also a big fan of the FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International. Currently sidelined with a torn Achilles Tendon, a blow for the Cheetahs and South Africa, we caught up with this former Shimlas to find out how it all began:
(1) Good morning Juan, thank you for taking time to answer these few questions for us. What did you study at Kovsies and why?
“Good morning Kate, only a pleasure. To answer your question – I signed up to do my Bachelor of Education. For me it was the only way I could get into Free State rugby. By no means did I want to be a teacher, but I needed to be a student to get into the rugby system provided by the university. And no I didn’t finish (my studies), because my career with the [then] Cats kicked off, which meant that there wasn’t any more time for studies.”
(2) I was going ask how your class attendance was, but…
“[Laughs] I was never in class I’m afraid! I was always at training if I wasn’t playing. The rare times I was doing none of these activities, I was chilling with my mates at Shimla Park. You could say I was a terrible student [a lot more laughter!].”
(3) Juan, is education not all that important as a professional rugby player?
“Oh no, don’t misunderstand me. Education is very crucial for anybody – a professional rugby player or not. A rugby career lasts for a few years and when that is over it’s important to have something to fall back on. I was fortunate enough to become a Springbok… but not everyone can have that, and even though I didn’t finish my studies I have a farm and butchery. I only have a couple of years of rugby and so my butchery and farm will be my future. I just was never the academic type, but, yes; education is essential.”
(4) When did you decide that rugby would become your profession? Did anyone influence that decision?
“I loved rugby from a young age and had a number of professionals that I looked up to. However, a large part of my decision was influenced by former mentor and University of Free State stalwart, Oom Tat Botha. He encouraged and mentored me; it’s because of him that I made the decisions I made.”
(5) You played in both the 2003 and 2007 Rugby World Cups. Apart from winning the latter, what was the difference between the two campaigns?
“Well, we won the 2007 [much laughter!]. The major differences were the teams. In 2003 we were a bunch of young stars, all new guys that hadn’t played together long. And then in 2004 Jake White selected this team that would later play in 2007 together. That was a crucial thing. By 2007 we had played together for over three years. That made the team stronger as opposed to 2003.”
(6) Tell us about winning the 2007 Rugby World Cup?
“It was unbelievable. It took time to sink in. When the final whistle went we were all just in awe. We knew we had it in us to do it, but that moment it happened it was unbelievable. To be part of the team that achieved that is a highlight of my career. It was quite simply the best experience.”
(7) You have been dubbed as one of the best blindside flankers in the world. What kind of pressure does that put on you?
“It is always nice to be acknowledged like that. Titles like that don’t just come overnight. But I’ve worked hard to be where I am. I’ve always trained hard and always given my best, so to be acknowledged like that makes it all worth it. Yes, the pressure is there because you may not always live up to it, but you work on your game and give it your all each and every chance you get. It’s great to know that when I retire one day I will leave that kind of legacy.”
(8) You are currently injured, missing the rest of Super Rugby, no Currie Cup for you. How are you feeling? Are you worried you might not make your third World Cup?
“It sucks to not be playing of course, and it’s hard to watch from the sidelines, but it is what it is. As for the World Cup, no I’m not worried; not at all. I’ve spoken to coach Peter de Villiers, he says he is happy with the feedback he has been receiving regarding my recovery. So, no; there’s nothing to worry about.”
(9) Back to the Varsity Cup; Shimlas made the semifinals once again, and unfortunately got the beating of their lives from the Ikeys. Did you see this coming (especially seeing as you were there in Cape Town supporting your team!)?
“Not at all. Before that loss I was sure they would go all the way this time. They are a great team; it was difficult to watch them getting hammered like that. Not to take away anything from the Ikeys, they were definitely the team that wanted it most. They played well, utilised all chances from the word go which is what my team failed to do. I am still a proud Shimlas though: watch this team, they have what it takes and only greater things to be expected. Ikeys were just the better team on Monday.”
10) How would you rate the standard of the Varsity Cup for anyone with aspirations to turn professional?
“The Varsity Cup has the quality that most tournaments don’t have. It has become so popular in the last year with great coverage. I’ve watched most of the games and it’s unbelievable exposure for these guys, something we never had. I reckon any club looking for players will definitely look at the Varsity Cup to lure guys. So it’s a great platform for these youngsters to be noticed. I wish we had this. I mean I had a great time at Shimlas, we even won the National Club Champs in 2002, but the Varsity Cup is just on another level – a really great opportunity for up-and-coming pro players.”
by Kate Nokwe
This article is a product of Varsity Cup