Kwagga Smith, who received a red card in last year’s final against the Crusaders, insists that Saturday’s title decider is not about personal redemption. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
If one recalls, very little separated the Lions and Crusaders as play headed towards half-time in last year’s final at Ellis Park.
However, the complexion of the clash changed in an instant when Smith chased a contestable kick from Elton Jantjies, and accidentally made contact with David Havili, who had leaped into the air to catch the ball.
The Crusaders fullback landed dangerously on his head and shoulders, while Smith was also concussed in the incident, before being shown a red card for taking a player out in the air.
It was an unfortunate accident that inevitably blighted the final as the 14-man Lions suffered a 25-17 defeat despite a gutsy second-half performance that tested a Crusaders side that began to display clear signs of weariness late in the game.
When Smith fronted up to the media in Johannesburg ahead of Saturday’s repeat final – albeit this time in Christchurch – the question of last year’s incident inevitably came up. Yet the Lions flanker reiterated that it was not something he was thinking about.
‘Last year, I had an opportunity, and I slipped up, but there’s another opportunity up for grabs and I want to use it to the best of my ability… It [Saturday’s final] is not about redemption for me, it’s just a wonderful opportunity. It’s a privilege to be in another final, and for some, it’s a third final in a row.’
Smith also explained how he had dealt with the disappointment of last year’s final, before realigning his focus on the way forward.
‘The week after [the final] was very difficult, and it was important to just get away to our [family] farm and have some quiet time. I spent time there with my family. It wasn’t a cynical or intentional act from my side, I perhaps just didn’t focus for one second, but those are the moments that can make a difference in a final.’
Heading into 2018, Smith then took the bold decision to at least temporarily curtail his involvement with the Blitzboks in order to focus on the 15-man game and his ambitions of becoming a Springbok.
That was achieved when he started against Wales in the season-opening Test on 2 June, while he has remained an integral member of the Lions’ back row throughout the journey to the final.
‘We’re blessed as a team to play in another final, and I’m so excited to get another chance to play in a match like this,’ Smith commented. ‘Earning my Springbok colours was a dream come true for me, but so would be winning Super Rugby, especially if we can go [to Christchurch] and do it there.
‘We must believe in ourselves, if we go over there and do our job well, then anything can happen,’ he added. ‘We don’t believe it’s mission impossible. If we stick to our game plan and get a good start, then we’ll be in with a chance.’
On a personal note, Smith has found some top form in recent weeks, with the abrasive flanker deservedly claiming the Man of the Match award in a superb two-try performance last Saturday.
Smith said he was just grateful to be contributing in whatever way he could after a season in which he admitted to some struggles with inconsistency.
‘For me, you have to peak at the right time. I have struggled at times this year, but I just want to give my best every game. It doesn’t always come off, but I’m grateful to get back into my stride, and I think the team has done that as well.
‘There haven’t been any changes in preparation, sometimes you have to do the hard graft, and sometimes that’s not noticed. Franco Mostert is a great example of that, he’s not the guy scoring all the tries, but he does so much hard work. That’s why I think he is one of the best locks in the world.’
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