Scotland and Lions legend Tom Smith dies, aged 50

Former prop fought a brave battle against colorectal cancer

Tom Smith and family present the match ball ahead of Scotland's Autumn Test versus South Africa in 2020. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Tom Smith and family present the match ball ahead of Scotland's Autumn Test versus South Africa in 2020. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

SCOTTISH RUGBY has lost one of its all-time greats with the death of former national team and British & Irish Lions prop Tom Smith at the age of 50, after a brave battle with stage four colorectal cancer.

He represented Scotland 61-times between 1997 and 2005, and also played in six consecutive Test matches for the Lions on two tours, first as a three-times capped international novice during the victorious 1997 expedition to South Africa and then in Australia four years later.

He was later an assistant coach at Edinburgh between 2009 and 2012, before taking on a role at Lyons. He was still living in the Lot-et-Garonne region of southern France.


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Smith was diagnosed with cancer in 2019 and fought the disease with characteristic determination, becoming an ambassador for charity 40tude in the fight to improve early detection of such illnesses.

In November last year, he was inducted into the Scottish Rugby Hall of Fame, and he and his family – wife Zoe, sons Angus and Teddy and daughter Amelie – delivered the match ball ahead of the Autumn Nations Series game against South Africa, receiving a standing ovation from the capacity BT Murrayfield crowd.

“Tom was one of the toughest and most skilful players I had the pleasure to call a teammate,” said former team-mate and current Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend. “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.”

Smith was educated at Rannoch School then moved into senior rugby with Dundee HSFP. He first caught the attention of Scotland head coach Jim Telfer when representing Watsonians at the Melrose 7s as a 24-year-old in 1995, and was invited to train with national team, before being included in the touring squad for the 1996 tour to New Zealand. He made his Scotland debut in the 1997 Five Nations against England at Twickenham.

He was selected to tour with Lions to South Africa that summer, and confounded concerns about his size by playing in all three Tests during that iconic series.

He started all four matches as Scotland lifted the last ever 1999 Five Nations title.

He left Glasgow Caledonia (now Glasgow Warriors) to join Brive in France that summer, then moved to Northampton Saints in 2001, which was the same year as his second Lions tour and his elevation to Scotland captain for three matches.

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Tom Smith,” a statement from the Lions said. “Tom made an incredible impact for the Lions, touring in 1997 as well as 2001, and was one of the great props to play the game. Our thoughts are with his family and friends during this difficult time. RIP Tom.”


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About David Barnes 3192 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

11 Comments

  1. News like this reminds us surely that those of us lucky enough to have avoided or beaten that vile disease are indeed fortunate. Those past years for the family with the knowledge of it all must have been a desperate time for them and sad and although indeed difficult to say, it is a thankful release for them all that the inevitable moment has arrived.
    I am certain that so many have paid tribute to him will be a source of comfort to his family and close friends at this sad time.

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  2. A role model like no other. The epitome of a quiet,determined man both on and off the field. A great no nonsense leader of huge integrity. RIP.So sorry for his family.

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  3. Tom was at the forefront of that new breed of prop, a really skilfull player could pass of either hand, went about his rugby business quietly with the minimum of fuss. He was a rock in the front row on that famous 97 Lions tour to SA, if any youngsters are reading this please watch the iconic documentary.
    I live in England, but it’s surprised me the number of old boys at my local club have fond memories of Tom, and his no fuss attitude both on the pitch and his brave fight against cancer.
    RIP Tom, my thoughts go out to your family😞

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  4. Tom “came to the fore” some time prior to joining Watsonians and thereby performing in front of a wider audience, as anyone who had known him or seen him play for DHSFP in sevens or XV’s around the Midlands.

    His natural skills and athleticsm honed as a stand-off at Rannoch School were complemented at his first club by twice-weekly “tough love” lessons in propping from the incomparable Danny Herrington.

    Sadly, both now departed – the thought of Tom and Dan again packing down together, in a better place, gives a crumb of comfort. Both good friends – RIP and sincere condolences.

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  5. Very sad news. It was good he was able to enjoy the moment pictured above with his family and the testimony from various sources shows how highly regarded he was, both on and off the field.

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  6. A sad, sad, sad day…a giant of a man on the pitch and a gentleman off the pitch. One of my favourites that ever wore number 1. If you can catch the attention of Jim Telfer, you have something special.

    I was following his testimonial account on Twitter and it all looked better. Genuinely gutted to see this.

    Go easy Whisper.

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  7. Ach that’s genuinely left me have some tears. Watching the lions doco with tom Smith quietly b brilliant was one of things that made my kid feel good about rugby.

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  8. so very very sad. Especially as the last news seemed fairly positive.

    Few better men on the field, even fewer off it

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    • Well said….I’m really not one for massively shows emotions etc… Im genuinely emotional at loss of Tom. Think it’s fair to say he will b missed by everyone in rugby

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