Leicester Tigers and England fly-half George Ford has described Matt Smith’s contribution the club as 'incredible' after it was announced earlier in the week that the 33-year-old will retire from professional rugby at the conclusion of the current season.
Tigers welcome Bath to Welford Road in the final round of the Premiership season next Saturday, May 18, when Smith will run out on to the historic pitch as a player for the final time – his 228th appearance for Leicester.
Ford turned 16 on the same weekend that Smith debuted for Leicester in 2006 against the Barbarians at Welford Road and was only just beginning his journey as part of the Tigers Academy programme, but has since enjoyed two stints as a team-mate of the centre’s and 'loved every minute' of their time on the pitch together.
“I have loved playing with him outside me,” said Ford. “Smithy gives his all and does anything to win for Leicester.
“He turns up every game and wears his heart on his sleeve for his team mates and the club.”
The pair shared Premiership success in 2013, with both coming off the bench in the famous victory over arch-rivals Northampton Saints at Twickenham.
However, despite sharing many memories on the pitch, Ford also says the contribution of Smith to the Tigers and players he has been alongside over his 14 seasons in the senior side off the pitch has been equally as valuable.
“The contribution Matt [Smith] has made to the club over the past 14 years has been incredible, on and off the pitch,” Ford said.
“He is an unbelievable team mate and an even better guy off the field to have around every day.”
When asked about the legacy Smith will leave behind as a player and take in to his new role as the club’s academy head coach, Ford said: “We and all the fans will remember Smithy as someone who cares about the club deeply and did the shirt proud every time he wore it.”
“He has shown that every time he has played with actions.”
Smith will be farewelled when he, Ford and the Tigers team welcome long-time rivals Bath to Welford Road next weekend on Saturday (May 18), kicking off at 4.00pm, with supporters getting the chance to say goodbye to the long-serving Leicester back and all departing players following the match.