South African Rugby
Smith delighted to be back in the fold
August 18, 2010
Juan Smith will be back in Springboks colours on Saturday for the first time since September last year © Getty Images
Springboks flanker Juan Smith is relishing his long-awaited return to the international stage against the All Blacks in Johannesburg on Saturday.
The Cheetahs captain has not played for the Springboks for almost a year after injury and a family bereavement took its toll. But he is all set to return for the world champions as they try to arrest their recent slide that has seen them lose their opening three matches of the competition, twice to the All Blacks and once to Australia.
The last time Smith featured was against the Wallabies during the successful 2009 campaign and he is desperate to help the team return to winning ways. "It's difficult being on the outside and knowing how the players who performed down under feel," he said. "But on Monday night it was clear the honour of playing for your country is still there.
"It was difficult for the guys down under. They played under difficult circumstances. But after our recent failures, we have a lot of pride to play for and playing in front of your home crowd is an advantage, so it can only get better."
Smith's introduction was one of seven changes to the team made by coach Peter de Villiers, who is under pressure to turn around the fortunes of the team. Scrum-half Francois Hougaard and lock Flip van der Merwe have been handed their first Test starts, while JP Pietersen, Jean de Villiers, Juan de Jongh and Jannie du Plessis also return.
And Smith said he felt right at home after being re-united with his international team-mates. "I felt comfortable coming back on Monday night because it's a team that's been playing together since Jake White's days. We've been playing together for such a long time that we know each other and I feel at home."
Asked whether the Springboks may struggle to gel with so many new faces in place, he responded, "There are a lot of new faces in the backline, but some familiar ones up front. Schalk Burger, Pierre Spies and I have played as a combination at this level for the past three or four years, so the fact that I've missed the first seven Tests shouldn't make a difference."
The flanker, capped 62 times, also paid tribute to his captain John Smit, a player that will run out for the 100th time in the Green and Gold. "He's the most experienced captain in SA rugby. I've been playing with him for a very long time and we'll give 100% to help make his milestone memorable."