‘Not the most flashy flyhalf’ Chris Smith sparking Bulls attack

Chris Smith – who earned his 50th cap against the Sharks – feels that the Bulls are a better team now who can win the URC title. Photo: BackpagePix

Chris Smith – who earned his 50th cap against the Sharks – feels that the Bulls are a better team now who can win the URC title. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Jun 6, 2024


Chris Smith has had to take the road less travelled to play high-level rugby, but his consistent performances make him a match-winner.

And considering his personal trophy cabinet, he has a good chance of opening that door once more with the Bulls this season.

Having featured for the Western Province Under-21 team after completing his schooling at SACS, Smith made his name at Varsity Cup level with Maties, and won the title in 2018 before joining the Pumas.

Smith – who graduated from Stellenbosch University with a BCom Honours degree – made an impression at the Mpumalanga side, becoming the top points scorer as they won the SuperSport Rugby Challenge in 2018, where he was also the Player of the Year.

He eventually joined the Bulls in 2020, and was again at the forefront of their immediate turnaround under new coach Jake White as they won the Super Rugby Unlocked title, and then the Currie Cup two seasons in a row.

But after near-misses in the Rainbow Cup final in 2021 and the United Rugby Championship final in 2022, Smith – who possesses an unerring kicking boot and an underrated passing repertoire – wants to hold a trophy in his hands again.

And that journey begins on Saturday in the URC quarter-final against Benetton at Loftus Versfeld (3.30pm kick-off).

It was an inspired Benetton outfit who inflicted that 35-8 Rainbow Cup final defeat on the Bulls in Treviso, and the Pretoria side are hoping to avoid a similar fate this weekend.

The Italian club lost 56-35 at Loftus on May 18, and will be confident that they can continue with that momentum from their second-half display to cause an upset on Saturday.

But Smith – who earned his 50th cap in last weekend’s 26-14 win over the Sharks in Durban – feels that the Bulls are a better team this time around.

“I think it’s rugby moments in a game, but come quarter-final time, there’s no time to be fancy. So, it’s playing Test-match rugby, playing in the right parts of the field,” the 29-year-old pivot said.

“But we have experienced that now two weeks ago, and I’d like to think we’ve learnt from it, and control the last 30 a lot better.

“We’ve learnt from these experiences. The Rainbow Cup final wasn’t a nice experience, but it opened our eyes that if we do want to compete in an international tournament, we need to step it up.

“Losing in a URC final did hurt us a lot, and the quarter-final against the Stormers in Cape Town was another tough loss to take.

“But our squad has been together for three seasons, and we’ve found our style of play and (are) getting better and better every day.”

Smith never thought that he would last so long at the Bulls, but is determined to prove his value once more this weekend.

He had to play second fiddle to Morné Steyn and then Johan Goosen at flyhalf for long periods, but doesn’t let that affect his performances.

But does he try to push Willie le Roux out of the way when the Springbok fullback pops up in the flyhalf channel? “Willie is obviously extremely experienced,” Smith said with a chuckle.

“I’ve really enjoyed playing alongside him. Just watching him, I’ve learnt a lot.

“Obviously he likes taking that first hand (at first receiver), but he’s very good at doing it. So, if he does slot into that first-hands role, I’m more than happy to stand back and watch him do a bit of playmaking.

“I’m not the most flashy flyhalf, and I don’t have the greatest highlights reel. But I’d like to think that my X-factor is doing the basics well, and serving the guys around me.

“I focus on how I can contribute the best to the team, to my style of play, and how I can make the Canan Moodies, or the Kurt-Lees or Willies outside me, let them do their magic – and that’s often just in a linking role.

“Didn’t think I would get there, but fortunate to hit that milestone. Last week, I was looking at the honours board – who’s achieved 50 caps – and it’s mainly filled with Springboks.

“So, for me to have achieved that, I am super grateful and super happy that I will be joining those guys on that milestone.

“I definitely didn’t imagine I would play 50 games for the Bulls. It’s been a bit of a slow journey ... I like to think of myself as a bit of a late bloomer.”

* The Bulls announced yesterday that experienced No 8 Nizaam Carr has signed a contract extension until 2027.

Five-Test Springbok Carr, 33, has played a vital role mainly off the bench for the Bulls in the second half as they look to close out games, and is also one of the leaders in the team.