The Springboks should deploy Kwagga Smith as an impact player off the bench in next Saturday’s World Cup opener against the All Blacks, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
By all accounts, the Boks have endured a relentless start to their World Cup preparations. In order to acclimatise to the gruelling heat in Japan, the Springboks were the first overseas team to arrive and have been met with a reception as warm as the humid conditions.
In fact, if you’re wondering just how hot it is over in Japan right now, SuperSport commentator Matthew Pearce put it in perspective with the following tweet:
Been asked by many about the heat and humidity Boks are training in. To use a practical anecdote, in the Japan game, played after 7pm, one of the Boks’ tight forwards lost five kilos during the game… that’s how hot and humid!
— Matt Pearce (@MattP555) September 10, 2019
Apparently conditions are expected to remain like that until around mid-October, but that means it’s likely that the majority of the World Cup pool matches will be influenced by the humidity one way or another.
It’s with all this in mind that the Bok coaching and medical staff have been putting the players through their paces to ensure they are fit and familiar with the conditions by the time their World Cup opener arrives against the All Blacks on 21 September.
In what is sure to be a gruelling, high-paced encounter, it will be very interesting to see how both teams approach the game, while there is no doubt that the impact of the bench players will be of massive importance.
During the Springboks’ warm-up against Japan last Friday, it was particularly evident that the visitors were intent on enforcing a heavy kicking game that looked to test their opponents under the high ball, while they were quite happy to play without the ball. The conditions called for it, but their execution – particularly the accuracy of their box kicks – was not always on point.
In that game the Boks also field what looked to be their first-choice lineup, but it was veteran Francois Louw who was preferred as the loose-forward replacement on the bench.
Louw displayed decent form during the Rugby Championship, and his experience, leadership and ability to seriously disrupt proceedings at the breakdown are deemed to be of extremely high value.
However, I’d argue that there is a more than a decent case to be made for Smith to rather provide the back-row backup against New Zealand next weekend.
The former Blitzboks star is a unique player with attributes not dissimilar to the All Blacks’ Ardie Savea, who also happens to have a history in sevens.
Despite his relatively diminutive frame for a South African back rower, Smith is a robust ball-carrier, boasting surprising pace and a work rate that has been honed from sevens play. He is supremely fit.
It’s these strengths that make the 26-year-old an ideal super sub. Smith is the type of player who could come on in the final half an hour against the All Blacks, and have a game-defining influence.
He’s the type of player who could make a decisive break, or chase down a tryline-bound All Blacks player on defence. He’s a terrier, a scrapper, a brawler with street smarts.
Smith has been backed to head to Japan as a somewhat left-field selection, and now the Springboks need to make sure that they make the most of their potent World Cup weapon.
Photo: Mark Tantrum/Getty Images