Leicester Tigers team mates, past and present, have praised the retiring Matt Smith for his contribution to the club after 14 years in the senior squad after graduating from the Tigers academy in 2005.
Smith announced his retirement from the game on Thursday afternoon having made 227 appearances for Leicester and scoring 150 points from 30 tries.
The son of club legend Ian ‘Dosser’ Smith, the outside back known as ‘Smithy’ to team-mates made his senior debut against the Barbarians at Welford Road in March 2006 and was part of four Premiership winning squads throughout a decorated career.
Smith’s long-time friend, who he was a school mate of at Oakham School, Tom Croft said: “Whether it was on or off the pitch, he is someone that we knew we could rely on – he was 100% committed – and that’s why we love Smithy!”
“He’s the type of character that keeps club traditions and DNA alive and will be sorely missed.
“It’s testament to his passion for the club that he will go on to shaping the next generation of Leicester Tigers.”
After leaving school, Croft and Smith were part of the same Tigers academy intake alongside current Leicester players Tom Youngs and Dan Cole.
Speaking about his long-time team-mate and friend, Cole said: “He is a great teammate, who always gave his most for the club, led through his actions and commitment.”
“Behind his easy going exterior lies a deep burning passion for Leicester, having been part of it since birth.
“He always was always willing to do the dirty work in the back line hid the fact he is an incredibly skilful player.”
Tigers captain Tom Youngs added: “He has given absolutely everything for this club, every single time he has pulled on the shirt and is a great example of what it means to be a Tigers player.”
Tom’s younger brother, Ben, who joined the academy as Smith’s time came to an end in the junor programme and made his senior debut just 11 months after the outside-back, also spoke of his “team” first qualities.
“The club have been blessed to have had two generations of Smiths dedicate themselves to this special club,” said Youngs.
“He is selfless, honest, committed and the ultimate team man.”
“It has been a pleasure from day one to this day, he should be extremely proud of what he has done for the club and himself – I’m proud to have called him a team mate.”
Smith’s career began at outside centre, partnering club legend Pat Howard in the midfield in his debut appearance against the Barbarians.
However, throughout his 14 years, the versatile back has spent time on the wing and at inside centre as well.
As well as his passion and commitment to the shirt, durable and tough playing style, Smith’s ability to play whatever role the squad required has become one of his most notable traits among team-mates, fans and pundits.
One man who he battled with internally for a spot in the back-line, while holding the utmost respect for one another throughout, is England and British Lions representative Manu Tuilagi.
Upon hearing the news of Smith’s retirement, Tuilagi said: “He is a true legend of the club and optimises what being a Tiger is all about!”
“One of the best centres to have played the game and it’s a proper honour to play with him.”
Another fellow outside-back, who retired earlier in the season after playing against and with Smith, Mat Tait added: “Smithy is Leicester Tigers.”
“He has been so proud to pull on the Tigers shirt and represent the club and the people of Leicester over the past 14 years.
“Always difficult to play against, niggly, uncompromising and well versed in the Leicester way he will be a big loss to the playing group as it is characters like him that are the glue within the club.”
Another who has played alongside Smith after coming up against him before making the move to Leicester, Greg Bateman, said the one-club man is to “celebrated” for what he has done for the club.
“When you join a club like Tigers and you hear smithy talk about a derby game – you know what it means to be a Tiger,” said Bateman.
“To be a one club man at this level is something really special and to be celebrated.”
In an exclusive interview with LTTV, to be aired during the week in the build up to his final appearance for the club on Saturday, May 18, the retiring Smith spoke of his admiration for former team-mate turned head coach Geordan Murphy as the “best” he has played with.
Murphy, when asked about Smith’s legacy after announcing his retirement, spoke of the “commitment” he has given from day one.
“Matt has been a fantastic servant of this club and represents everything we want a Tigers player to be,” Murphy said.
“His commitment to his team-mates and the badge has been second to none from when he first arrived as a skinny teenager in the academy to now, as a senior player in the squad.
“It was a pleasure to play alongside Smithy and has been just as much a pleasure to coach him, which I believe will be the case working together as coaches as he helps develop the next generation of talent in the Tigers academy.”
Following the Bath fixture, Smith will take on the role full-time role as the club’s academy head coach after assisting the programme earlier this season in delivering a second successive U18 League title.