Springbok legend Juan Smith, who last week announced his retirement on medical advice, could make a dramatic return to the pitch.
The Cheetahs stalwart underwent four surgeries after he ruptured his Achilles tendon in the opening round of the 2011 Super Rugby season in a bid to continue his career.
But Smith last week called time on his career after the injury flared up after cameos in the Cheetahs’ two recent Super Rugby pre-season friendlies against the Stomers and the Bulls.
The 2007 World Cup winner, however, still harbours hope of making a comeback, and he could come out of retirement if a new procedure, in which clamps are used to further tighten the tendon, proves successful.
Smith said he heard about the procedure after his announcement and planned to undergo the surgery on Wednesday.
“When Johan Kruger, the doctor who initially reattached my Achilles tendon, heard about my retirement he phoned me he immediately [and told me about the alternative surgery] and he believes it can be a success,” Smith told Rapport.
“Why wait? I’m 32, and if I get another opportunity I want to play. Even if it is just for one more season, that’s all I’m asking for.”
The pragmatic, tough-as-nails flank told the newspaper that he savoured his final 60 minutes of rugby in the recent warm-up matches following two challenging years which saw him go under the knife four times and rehabilitate the injury 12 times.
“Sixty minutes … at least I had that," he said. "Thirty in the warm-up game against the Stormers and thirty in the warm-up game against the Bulls. That made all the pain of the past two years worth it.”
Smith said that while he is grateful to have played again, it remains an anticlimactic final chapter to his career and only adds to his hunger to return for one last hurrah.
“It’s not how I wanted to end my career. I wanted to go out on my own terms … I have unfinished business.”
Smith, who made his debut for the Cheetahs in 2002 and played in 69 Tests for the Springboks, was a greenhorn when he was included in Rudolph Straeuli’s 2003 World Cup squad, having played just six Tests.
In contrast to players like John Smit, who condemned Straeuli’s infamous Kamp Staaldraad, Smith said the military-style camp was one of the most beneficial experiences of his career.
“I was 21 and for me Kamp Staaldraad was the best thing to date. I got to know myself as a person and got respect for my body. It meant a lot to my rugby career,” said Smith.
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