Lions and Scotland legend Tom Smith dies aged 50

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Tom Smith walks out into Murrayfield with the match ball after being inducted into the Scottish Rugby Hall of Fame

Two-time British & Irish Lions tourist and Scotland legend Tom Smith has died aged 50.

Smith was part of the iconic 1997 series-winning side before touring again four years later, becoming the only Scottish player to have played in six consecutive Lions Tests.

The loosehead prop was selected for his first Lions Tour to South Africa with only three Scotland caps to his name, having made his international debut earlier that same year.

British & Irish Lions Profile: Lion #668 Tom Smith

He went on to play an influential role as part of the Lions pack that more than held their own against the mighty Springboks as they secured a memorable 2-1 series win.

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Smith went on to be a cornerstone of the team that toured four years later in Australia, playing in all three Tests once again against the Wallabies to cement his place in Lions history.

He also represented Scotland 61 times during his illustrious playing career, which resulted in him being inducted into the Scottish Rugby Hall of Fame last year.

Tom Smith in action

Such was his impact, Sir Ian McGeechan – who coached the Lions in 1997 along with Jim Telfer – described Smith as the “greatest Scotland player of the professional era”.

Born in England to a Scottish mother and English father, Smith played his club rugby for Dundee HSFP, Watsonians, Caledonian Reds, Glasgow Caledonians, Brive and Northampton Saints.

But his big breakthrough came in South Africa on the ’97 Tour, where he overtook more experienced rivals to play a major role in a stunning series win, the first of the professional era.

Lions legend Smith inducted into Scottish Rugby Hall of Fame

Telfer, the revered coach of the Lions forwards on that expedition, was a long-time admirer, having first spotted Smith playing for Dundee High School FP in a sevens tournament in Hawick.

“He was a rugby player first and a prop second,” Telfer recalled.

“He was never compromised when he had the ball in his hands. He could move it quickly or take the player on or hold it up. His skill was the thing I remember with Tom.

“You could play a different kind of game when he was in the team.

Tom Smith on 1997 Tour

“He could be a link player but was still a solid servant in the scrums and lineouts. He was always a very good scrummager – he was the ideal shape because he had the bulk as well.”

As well as his Lions exploits, Smith also captained Scotland during an eight-year international career and was a talismanic figure in Scotland’s 1999 Five Nations Championship success.

Following his retirement in 2009, Smith coached at Edinburgh and in France before he had to focus on his own health, when he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2019.

Smith fought the condition as tenaciously as any contest on the rugby field, with support from all corners of the rugby world and the Murrayfield Injured Players Foundation.

He also went on to become an ambassador for the bowel cancer charity, 40tude, which aims to raise awareness and funds for research into the UK’s second biggest killer for cancer.

In paying tribute, Scotland head coach and 1997 Lions teammate Gregor Townsend said: “Tom was one of the toughest and most skilful players I had the pleasure to call a teammate.

“He succeeded in the most challenging of environments and kept up a high level of play well into his thirties. Tom also did a tremendous amount for charitable causes and was a great family man.

“I am convinced that he will be regarded as one of our best ever players and his loss will be felt by all those who played with him or watched him for club and country over the years.”

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