Bok forward Juan Smith admits his 28 months away from international rugby due to injury was a “dark moment” but he is glad to be back.
Springbok forward Juan Smith admits his 28 months away from international rugby due to injury was a “dark moment” but he is glad to be back.
The 69-cap back-row has not played for the Boks since their clash with England at Twickenham back in 2010, with his return an emotional one.
“I went through five operations which was tough, and every time you start with your rehab and you think you will get back into rugby only to go for another operation,” Smith said on Tuesday.
“Every operation was a dark moment for me and, eventually, after five operations, I finally called it a day. I think that was the darkest moment of my rugby career.”
He added: “The surgeon in Bloemfontein then asked me to give him a chance. At that stage, the operation wasn't for me to get back into rugby but for me to walk without pain.
“For 25 months, I would go to bed with pain and I would wake up with pain. After that last operation, everything went well and the morning after the operation I told my wife I had no pain and I was going to try again.”
Smith resurrected his career in France, where he signed a one-year deal with Toulon. Since then he has helped them win the Heineken Cup and Top 14 title in a memorable comeback.
“It's been a long road for me recovering from my injury – after 28 months I made the announcement that I was finished with rugby,” he said.
“Going over to France … was an awesome feeling and what better way to celebrate my comeback – to be picked for the Springboks again.
“It was amazing to make a comeback at Toulon, and the cherry on the cake was winning the Heineken Cup and Top 14.
“Everything that happens to me now is a bonus. If I look back to a year ago, the only plan was to play rugby for 80 minutes,” he added.
“As I finished last season I set new goals, but I've always had the goal to play in three world cups. I missed out in 2011 with the Achilles injury so I hope to reach next year's World Cup.
“You come to a stage in your career where, even if I have to play tighthead prop, I will give it a shot.”