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Longwell: 'Nelie' Smith was a true gentleman

By Jonathan Bradley

Cornelius 'Nelie' Smith, the former Springbok coach and captain who led Ballymena in the mid-1990s, passed away yesterday morning.

One week shy of his 82nd birthday, he suffered heart failure in the South African town of Strand where he spent his final years.

Arriving at Eaton Park with a big reputation, Smith is credited with revolutionising the approach of the All-Ireland League side in 1996 as they dealt with the game's transition to professionalism.

He masterminded an Ulster Senior League and Cup double in 1997 before departing the next year to make way for his compatriot and protégé Andre Bester.

His Ballymena side became bulk suppliers to the Ulster squad that won the European Cup in 1999 and one such player, Gary Longwell, expressed his sadness at the news.

"It's very sad to hear that Nelie has passed away," said the former Irish international lock. "He was an absolute gentleman as well as being a fantastic rugby coach.

"He had a massive impact on Ballymena Rugby Club."

In his homeland, Smith is remembered as an astute rugby thinker and was one of the few men to led the nation as both captain and head coach.

As a player, he won seven caps in the 1960s, leading out the side four times. Moving into coaching, he took his former side Orange Free State to a maiden Currie Cup before taking charge of the Springboks in 1980 and winning 12 of his 15 Tests in charge.

President of SA Rugby Oregan Hoskins also paid tribute.

"Nelie was one of the best," he said. "It is only a selected few who played for, captained and coached the Springboks.

"His rugby knowledge was massive and he has touched the lives of thousands of players over the many years he coached.

"Many players will remember his driving maul techniques with a smile today."

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