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The South African Rugby Union on Monday extended condolences to the family of former Springbok captain, Cornelius Michael “Nelie” Smith, who passed away in the early hours of Monday morning.

“Oom Nelie”, 81, passed away due to heart failure, in Strand where he lived, only a week before his 82nd birthday on 8 May.

The president of SA Rugby, Mr. Oregan Hoskins, said rugby across the globe is poorer today.“Oom Nelie was one of the best. It is only a selected few who played for, captained and coached the Springboks and he was one of those. His rugby knowledge was massive and he has touched the lives of thousands of players over the many years he coached,” said Mr Hoskins.

“He was in high demand as a coach all over the world and achieved success in countries such as Italy and Ireland as well. His approach to basics like fitness and handling was well-known and many players will remember his driving maul techniques with a smile today.”

Smith played in seven tests for the Springboks and captained them in four of those. His debut was in 1963 against Australia and his first test as captain against France a year later. He also captained the Springboks against Australia and New Zealand in 1965 and scored a try and three penalties for 12 test points. Smith also played in 12 tour matches for South Africa.

As Springbok coach in 1980-81, Smith won 12 of 15 tests.

He also served as a Springbok selector for a decade (1971-81).

At provincial level, Smith and Sakkie van Zyl coached the Orange Free State to their first Currie Cup title in 1976. Smith played for the Free State in 60 matches between 1956 and 1965 and captained them in 37 matches. He also played for Griquas in four matches in 1966.

Smith also coached the likes of Eastern Province and Northern Free State as well as Ballymena and Rovigo in Ireland and Italy respectively.

Smith is survived by daughters Carin, Annien and son Cornelius.

A memorial service will be held in Strand and his funeral will be in Bloemfontein, but dates and times will be confirmed later.

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