Major teams: Watsonians, Dundee, Glasgow, Brive, Northampton
Test span: 1997-2005
Scotland caps: 61 (61 starts)
Lions caps: 6 (6 starts)
Test points: 30 (6T)
Size doesn’t matter. Just ask Scotland’s Tom Smith. Despite a lack of size or experience, he rocketed to prominence in 1997 after being picked for the Lions tour of South Africa. Far from a shoo-in for selection, he had played only three Tests for his country before he was selected by Ian McGeehan to go on the hallowed trip.
Once he was there, his strength in the scrum and his mobility stood him apart from other props; he offered a lot of power in a smaller package than most. He also did this with no boasting; Smith is as softly spoken and modest as players come.
If you think at 5ft 10in and 16st he sounds tiny for a modern prop, you will be shocked to hear he also played at No 8 for Scottish Schools. He always had ball skills – at age-grade level his coach, former Scotland cap Alastair McHarg, once shouted at him: “That’s a one on your back, not a ten!”
Of course it was Smith’s pluck that made him stand out. He played six consecutive Lions Tests in a row, from 1997 to 2001. He captained Scotland for a brief period in 2001 and played in two World Cups, in 1999 and 2003. He was never on the bench for a single one of those Tests.
Smith was also a key player for Northampton between 2001 and 2009, having previously played with Brive in France. Winning a Powergen Cup was big for Saints, but Smith never made a fuss about it. He never made a fuss about anything.
This is all the more impressive when you realise that Smith has suffered from epilepsy his entire playing career. It never held him back. He once played a Calcutta Cup match after having a seizure that same day.
Setbacks like that couldn’t faze him. He made the most of what he had and succeeded.
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