Tom Smith, one of the greatest Scotland players of all time, has died at his home in France after a long battle with cancer.
Smith, who was just 50, won 61 caps for Scotland. He was a surprise choice for the British Lions team on the 1997 tour to South Africa but played all three tests against the Springboks, and then all three tests on the 2001 tour to Australia.
He was the last Scot to start a test for the Lions for 20 years, until last year’s tour to South Africa. Many believe he was the best Scotland player of the entire professional era, from 1995 until now.
A rich tradition of No 1s
Scotland & @lionsofficial prop Tom Smith sadly passed away earlier today aged 50.
A hugely respected player, Tom will be greatly missed by everyone associated with rugby in Scotland and throughout the game.
All our thoughts are with Tom's family and friends at this time. pic.twitter.com/nBLlDq7dH1
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) April 6, 2022
Smith was one of the first of the modern-style mobile loosehead prop but well before his time.
Never a showy player and always modest, he followed a rich tradition of Scots in the No 1 jersey, from Hugh MacLeod through Ian McLaughlan, Jim Aitken and David Sole. Many of them also played test matches for the British and Irish Lions.
Smith was born in London to a Scottish mother and English father, but honed his rugby skills at the now-defunct Rannoch School in Perthshire.
His first regular club was Dundee High School FP, gaining his propping apprenticeship there from the legendary Danny Herrington.
Smith also played for Watsonians and the district side Caledonia Reds, turning professional with the merged Glasgow Warriors team. He played for them for a season before moving to French club Brive.
After two seasons in France he moved to Northampton, where he spent the remainder of his career until retiring in 2009. He moved into coaching initially with Edinburgh and laterally with Lyon.
First capped in 1997 against England at Twickenham, he was picked for the Lions that summer despite having won just three caps.
With Scots Ian McGeechan and Jim Telfer coaching the tourists, Smith was a shock selection for the first test against the Springboks ahead of England’s experienced Jason Leonard, but never lost his place for two tours after that.
He retired from international rugby in 2005, playing his final game against England, again at Twickenham. He scored six tries for his country, the most important being the score to beat Fiji in the group stages of the 2003 Rugby World Cup.
The best of his era
We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Tom Smith.
Tom made an incredible impact for the Lions, touring in 1997 as well as 2001 and was one of the great props to play the game.
Our thoughts are with his family and friends during this difficult time. RIP Tom ⭐️
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) April 6, 2022
McGeechan and Telfer believed he was the best Scot of his era.
“He was every inch the modern prop forward with sublime running and handling skills,” said McGeechan. “That, allied to the traditional strengths that are a pre-requisite for a front-row forward to flourish in the setpiece.
“For me he has been the greatest Scotland player of the professional era to date.”
“Tom was a rugby player first and a prop second,” said Telfer. “He was never compromised with the ball in his hands.
“The skill is what I remember with Tom. You could play a different kind of game when he was in the team.”
In 2019 Smith was diagnosed with Stage 4 colorectal cancer. He was inducted into the Scottish Rugby Hall of Fame last November, and his last visit to Murrayfield was to present the match ball for the test match against South Africa that month.
He is survived by wife Zoe, and children Angus, Amelie and Teddy.
Scottish Rugby reflects on the life and career of Tom Smith, who sadly passed away today.
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) April 6, 2022
RIP Tom Smith, absolutely heartbreaking news – not many props would score a try like this in today's game, let alone 20 years ago – thoughts are with his family. pic.twitter.com/5Yg6QPFpIZ
— Andrew Forde (@andrewfrugby) April 6, 2022
Deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Tom Smith. A true legend of the game, he will be missed by everyone. Thoughts are with Tom’s family and friends. RIP Tom pic.twitter.com/smf7uQnL8M
— Stuart W Hogg (@StuartWHOGG_) April 6, 2022
This is brutal. Tom was a hero of mine growing up & a colossus of a player and man. Such sad news. https://t.co/BVOdyUk0HX
— John Barclay (@johnbarc86) April 6, 2022
The death of Tom Smith the rugby player is terrible news. Such a decent human being.
— John Beattie (@BBCJohnBeattie) April 6, 2022
unbelievably sad news. He was one of the very best, as a person, as a friend and as a player. An unassuming legend, you'd always want him on your side. My thoughts are with his family. Rest easy Tammy Troot https://t.co/CvjpNkWKxk
— Doddie Weir OBE (@DoddieWeir5) April 6, 2022
Rest in peace Tom Smith. A man of few words but when he spoke it mattered, when he played nothing else mattered, but when he was away from a rugby pitch only Zoe, Amelie, Angus and Edward ever mattered. Go well our lovely friend. We shall miss you 🙏🏼
— Gabby Logan (@GabbyLogan) April 6, 2022