Ballymena Rugby Club is this week mourning the passing of its former coach Cornelius ‘Nelie’ Smith in his native South Africa.
The former Springbok scrum-half was Director of Rugby at Eaton Park from 1995-1998, at the time of the advent of the professional era in the sport, which included the creation of the All-Ireland League.
“Ballymena were in a fairly poor state playing-wise when Nelie arrived at Eaton Park in 1995,” recalled club President Guy McCullough.
“Ballymena showed an immediate and considerable improvement once he took over, winning the Ulster Senior League and Senior Cup in 1996-97 and then winning the Ulster Senior League and losing in the All-Ireland League Division One play-off in 1997-98.
Nelie was a very pleasant, quiet and rather shy man, but was a real rugby fanatic, who immediately gained the respect of his players.
His training schedules were tough, but always seemed to be interesting and enjoyable to the boys.
“Fitness and handling skill were very important to Nelie, and at Ballymena he also perfected the driving maul, a ploy which regularly proved very successful,” added Guy.