Tom Smith: Tributes to ‘greatest Scotland player of the professional era’ who has died after cancer battle

Tom Smith, an outstanding player for Scotland and the British and Irish Lions during the 1990s and 2000s, has died following a long battle with cancer. He was 50.

Tom Smith in action for the British & Irish Lions during the victorious tour of South Africa in 1997. Picture: David Rogers /Allsport
Tom Smith in action for the British & Irish Lions during the victorious tour of South Africa in 1997. Picture: David Rogers /Allsport

A formidable opponent who captained his country and twice toured with the Lions, Smith is widely considered one of the finest loosehead props of the modern era.

His career highlights - and there were many - include playing in the Lions’ Test series victory over the world champion Springboks in 1997 and his role as a cornerstone in the Scotland side that won the Five Nations Championship in 1999.

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His career straddled the amateur and professional eras and he played club rugby for Dundee HSFP, Watsonians, Caledonia Reds, Glasgow Warriors, Brive and Northampton Saints.

Tom Smith was capped 61 times by Scotland.

He was capped 61 times by Scotland and made six Test appearances for the Lions.

In autumn 2019 he was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer and underwent chemotherapy. He went on to become a tireless fundraiser for cancer charities and took an ambassadorial role with 40tude, a bowel cancer charity.

He returned to Murrayfield last November when he was inducted into the Scottish Rugby Hall of Fame and he was given a rousing reception by the Scotland supporters when he delivered the match ball ahead of the match with South Africa accompanied by his children Amelie, Angus and Teddy.

At the time, Sir Ian McGeechan, head coach on the 1997 Lions tour, described Smith as “the greatest Scotland player of the professional era to date”.

Tom Smith delivers the match ball ahead of the game against South Africa last November, accompanied by his children Amelie, Angus and Teddy. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Rugby was quick to pay tribute to the former prop, with the Lions issuing a statement on Wednesday which said: “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.”

Scottish Rugby said: “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.”

Born in London to a Scottish mother and an English father, Smith was educated at Emanuel School in London and then Rannoch School on the shore of Loch Rannoch in Perth and Kinross.

His father died when he was six and Smith said he learned his work ethic at Rannoch where he was a boarder and had his formative rugby experiences.

He played club rugby for Dundee HSFP and joined Caledonia Reds when the game turned professional in 1996, helping them win the Scottish Inter-District Championship in the 1996-97 season.

His progress was such that he was named in McGeechan’s Lions squad to tour South Africa that summer, despite having played just three times for Scotland. Alongside fellow Scots Gregor Townsend and Alan Tait, he was a key member of the Test team, playing all three matches against the Springboks as the tourists won a thrilling series 2-1.

He retained his place four years later in Australia, again starting all three Tests in a series that ended 2-1 to the Wallabies.

In between, he was part of the Scotland team that won the final Five Nations Championship, starting all four games as Jim Telfer’s team clinched the title on a thrilling final weekend which saw the Scots defeat France in Paris and Wales beat England at Wembley.

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