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In Memoriam: Tom Smith #1769

Former Northampton Saints, Scotland, and British & Irish Lions prop, Tom Smith, passed away yesterday aged 50.

Smith, who was diagnosed with stage-four colon cancer in November 2019, joined the Club in 2001 and became Saint #1769 after previous spells with Caledonia Reds, Glasgow Warriors, and Brive – going on to make 193 appearances in Black, Green and Gold over an eight-year playing career at Franklin’s Gardens before retiring from rugby in 2009.

The loosehead was one of the finest props of the modern era, whose industrious style of play and unwavering humility made him a favourite of Saints supporters throughout his time in Northampton and beyond.

Smith scored ten tries for Saints, with his time at Franklin’s Gardens including two Powergen Cup finals, a Heineken Cup semi-final and three Heineken Cup quarter finals – he signed off with success in the European Challenge Cup as Northampton beat Bourgoin in 2009.

“It was an absolute privilege to play so much of my career alongside Tom,” said Mattie Stewart, who lined-up with Smith for Saints and at international level with Scotland.

“He was always a shy and quiet man, but he was a fantastic bloke off the pitch with a wonderfully dry sense of humour, and a real family man as well. He was always immensely respected within any playing group he was involved in, because he always delivered on the pitch.

“The more you played with him, the more you realised what an exceptional talent he was – he was world class, one of the best props to play the game, and he’d be even better today in my opinion because of his incredible skillset.”

Mattie Stewart, former Saint and Scotland international

“He was the all-round package; his ball handling, pace, carrying and tackling abilities were way above the props of the day, so he was miles ahead his time. Tom had such a strong character as well and that was clear from the way he handled his diagnosis. We will all miss him greatly.”

Smith made his name on the 1997 British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa, selected by former Saints coach Ian McGeechan despite only having three Scotland caps at the time.

He started all three Tests against the Springboks, catching the eye with his impressive scrummaging ability and skills in the loose to help the Lions win the series 2-1.

Smith went on to win 61 Test caps for Scotland and six for the Lions – touring Australia in 2001 and becoming the only Scot to play six consecutive Test matches for the Lions in the process.

He was member of Scotland’s last Five Nations-winning side of 1999, and was inducted to the Scottish Rugby Hall of Fame last November.

“To my mind, he must rank as Scotland’s greatest prop forward of the professional era, if not of all time,” McGeechan told The Telegraph. “Pound for pound there was no one tougher, but he was also far ahead of his time in how skilful he was.

“In person, he was quiet, but when he spoke everyone listened because they knew he didn’t waste words. He was a great sounding board for a coach. If things weren’t working he would tell you.

“I just have huge sadness for everyone who was close to him but especially his family because he was a very strong family man. Not only has rugby lost one of its finest players but also one of its greatest human beings.”

Ian McGeechan

After his retirement from playing, Smith went on to be forwards coach at Edinburgh and Lyon – settling in the south of France with his family. He is survived by his wife, Zoe, and their three children, Angus, Teddy and Amelie.

“Without doubt one of the finest players ever to pull on the Black, Green and Gold jersey, Tom will be remembered with immense fondness at Franklin’s Gardens,” said Saints Chairman, John White.

“He was an incredibly important player for Northampton during his time here, but it was his remarkable character off the field as well that made him so popular with the playing group and with our supporters to this day.

“We will of course prepare a fitting tribute for Tom at our next home match, but for now the thoughts of everyone at Northampton Saints are with Tom’s loved ones.”

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