Smith’s death at the age of 50 prompted an outpouring of tributes and testimonials for an outstanding rugby player whose human qualities matched his abilities on the field.
Blair, who broke into the national side when the prop was one of the senior pros, was clearly upset as he remembered a player described by Sir Ian McGeechan as “the greatest Scotland player of the professional era”.
“You can see through the tributes on social media about the type of character he was,” said the Edinburgh coach. “Some of it is about the quality of the player, but a lot of it is about the quality of the man.
“If he spoke, it was generally something important or passionate, or something that had frustrated him. He was an incredibly well respected player and man, and great around his family.”
Edinburgh Rugby will hold a minute’s applause in memory of Smith ahead of their European Challenge Cup match against Pau on Friday night. The 61-times capped forward had a spell coaching Edinburgh’s pack, initially under Rob Moffat, and Stuart McInally spoke to the squad on Thursday about Smith’s legacy.
“Stuart addressed the guys this morning and spoke really well about the impact Tom had and we felt it was appropriate as a club to mark that,” continued Blair.
“Personally, I’m so sad to hear the news. He was someone I played with and we kept in touch over text messages. I knew a couple of weeks ago that he was struggling and sent him a message and he was back to me within two minutes, thinking of other people. It’s a big loss.”
Smith was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer in 2019 and bore the disease with typical humility, becoming an ambassador for the cancer charity 40tude which strives to improve early detection.
Blair was in Japan as part of Gregor Townsend’s Scotland coaching team when he learned of the bleak prognosis.
“I remember it really clearly, when Gregor told us at the World Cup in 2019 about his diagnosis and the outlook. It was stage four and the time on it was months. The fight he has shown over three years….”
Blair has fond memories of Smith as a team-mate at the 2003 World Cup in Australia, mostly notably when the loosehead scored a late try to rescue Scotland from defeat against Fiji. But his impact off the pitch was equally important.
“His chat before the 2005 Scotland-England game when the coaches had left the room was a moment I remember,” said the coach.
“Around that time we were having a little bit of a struggle under Matt Williams and the results hadn’t been too positive and Tom pulled the guys together and really galvanised them before that game.
“He just did things in a nice way. He was such a decent human being. He just wanted to help the team and push us on.”