April 7, 2022 7:02AM

Tom Smith, the former Scotland prop who played a key role in the British and Irish Lions' series win in South Africa in 1997, has died. He was 50.

The Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) announced Smith's death on Wednesday, He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2019.

"Pound for pound, he probably was Scotland's greatest international," SRU chairman John Jeffrey said.

Smith played 61 matches for Scotland from 1997-2005, helping the country win the Five Nations title in 1999 -- its most recent championship win in the northern hemisphere tournament. He captained the team, too, for a period from 2001.

His career highlight was undoubtedly the Lions tour in 1997, for which he was selected despite having played just three times for the Scots by that stage.

Smith played in all three Tests against the then-world champion Springboks which the tourists won 2-1. He retained his place in the Lions team for the 2001 tour of Australia, again playing all three games in a tight series won 2-1 by the Wallabies.

Small and squat, he had the power of a forward but the handling skills of a back. He was shy, humble and highly respected.

"Tom was simply inspirational," former Scotland teammate Chris Paterson said.

"He was someone who had an aura that I didn't experience with any other player and commanded instant respect.

"As well as being a wonderful rugby player, he was a lovely, warm generous person and made you feel 10 feet tall when he spoke to you."

To current Scotland coach Gregor Townsend, who also played in the Lions team in 1997, Smith was "one of the toughest and most skilful players I had the pleasure to call a teammate."

"He succeeded in the most challenging of environments and kept up a high level of play well into his thirties," Townsend said.

"Tom also did a tremendous amount for charitable causes and was a great family man. I am convinced that he will be regarded as one of our best ever players."

After retiring as a player, Smith was forwards coach at Edinburgh and Lyon.