Juan Smith returns for Springboks

Juan Smith. Photo /  Ross Setford
Juan Smith. Photo / Ross Setford

Flanker Juan Smith will return to test rugby with South Africa 18 months after being forced to retire because of a chronic ankle injury and nearly four years after his last international.

The 2007 World Cup winner was named on Wednesday in South Africa's starting team for the Rugby Championship test against Argentina in Salta on Saturday, completing his return to the test arena when it appeared he would never play at any level again.

Smith said his career was over in February 2013 after struggling for two years with an Achilles' tendon injury. However, he made a surprise recovery, was given a trial by French club Toulon and won the Heineken Cup and French league last season.

Smith was selected in place of Marcell Coetzee and was one of three changes to the starting 15 from the Springboks' opening-round win against the Argentines in Pretoria last weekend. Coach Heyneke Meyer also brought in Gurthro Steenkamp at loosehead prop for Tendai Mtawarira and Eben Etzebeth at lock for Bakkies Botha.

Coetzee, Mtawarira and Botha all dropped to the bench. Meyer also included wing Lwazi Mvovo in the reserves.

The 33-year-old Smith, a pivotal player for South Africa when it won the World Cup in France seven years ago, made his last test appearance at the end of 2010 before sitting out two full seasons with the Achilles injury.

He was given a late call-up to Meyer's squad for this Rugby Championship and is now set to run out for what was considered an unlikely 70th test appearance.

He joins a South African forward pack that was subdued when the No. 2-ranked Springboks struggled to beat Argentina 13-6 at Loftus Versfeld. Saturday's return fixture in Argentina's northeastern city of Salta will be an even greater test for the South Africans, who have been pushed close in Argentina over the past two seasons. The teams drew 16-16 in Mendoza in 2012 and South Africa only narrowly won 22-17 last season.

"We're looking forward to the challenge," coach Meyer said. "Although we were happy with the result in Pretoria, we were not happy with the performance and this is an opportunity to show improvement against a tough opponent away from home."

South Africa's backline was unchanged, with center Damian de Allende picked for his second international and wing Bryan Habana set to play his 99th test.

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South Africa: Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks, Damian de Allende, Jean de Villiers (captain), Bryan Habana, Handre Pollard, Ruan Pienaar; Duane Vermeulen, Juan Smith, Francios Louw, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Gurthro Steenkamp. Reserves: Adriaan Strauss, Tendai Mtawarira, Frans Malherbe, Bakkies Botha, Marcell Coetzee, Francois Hougaard, Morne Steyn, Lwazi Mvovo.

-AP

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