Cape Town – To say that 2017 was a tough year for Bulls flank Roelof Smit is a massive understatement.
As if being plagued by injury wasn’t frustrating enough – he played less than 10 minutes of rugby all year – the 25-year-old then had his Pretoria home robbed in December.
“They took everything,” Smit told Sport24 this week.
It signified the end to a disastrous period for the SA Under-20 (2013) product.
By the end of 2016, Smit was considered one of the best No 6s in the country. He had worked his way into the Springbok mix and was part of Allister Coetzee’s squad that went on the northern hemisphere tour.
But, ahead of the November Test against England at Twickenham, Smit tore a pectoral muscle in training to bring the curtain down on his brief flirtation with Springbok colours.
It was a horrific injury, and one that ruled him out for six months.
When he eventually made his return after months of intense rehabilitation in July last year, Smit tore his MCL in his first game back. In a SuperSport Challenge match against the Sharks, he lasted less than 10 minutes and was subsequently ruled out for the rest of the year.
Now, with a new coach in John Mitchell, Smit is hell-bent on finally reaching his full potential as the Bulls look to turn the corner in 2018.
A Springbok cap will always be in the back of his mind, but given how much time he has spent away from the game over the past year, the excitement of being back on the field is what is driving Smit most at this stage.
“It doesn’t matter if I play for the Springboks or not, I just want to enjoy the game,” he said.
“The two injuries in a row actually made me think about it again. Sometimes you need to put your goals aside to just do what you love doing.
“If I get back on the field and play a few games I think my goals will come back. They haven’t gone, they just got side-lined a bit.
“I want to be the best at what I love, and to do that I need to prove to people and myself that it wasn’t a fluke where I ended off two years ago.
“I can be the best No 6 in South Africa and I’m going to prove it again.”
After a pre-season with the Bulls that Smit described as “different” – Mitchell had placed a significant emphasis on recovery, diet and off-field preparation – Smit is feeling like his old self.
He started last weekend’s pre-season friendly against the Jaguares at Loftus, which the Bulls won 21-12, and was impressive throughout that match.
“I feel much more confident after this weekend and I feel like I can open now again and just play without overthinking it. I feel good,” he said.
But the road ahead is a long one, and Smit knows he needs to deliver throughout the season to finally cash in on the promise he showed as a youngster.
“I’ve had a couple of ups and downs at the Bulls,” he acknowledged.
“I think I have a lot more to offer South African rugby, honestly. I just need to get back on form and I just want to play for a year without injuries and show them what I can do.”
The Bulls’ first match of the season will be at Loftus next weekend when they host New Zealand’s Hurricanes.