World Cup-winning flank Kwagga Smith says the national coaches were ‘extremely honest’ about what was expected of him in order to make it into the Springbok squad, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
In the latest issue of SA Rugby magazine, Smith discusses his experiences in Japan, where he plied his trade for Yamaha Jubilo before the Top League came to an end due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition, the dynamic flank reflects on his time with the Springboks, which included forming part of the World Cup-winning squad last year.
With the former Blitzboks superstar having shifted his focus to fifteens, he achieved a lifelong dream when he made his Springbok debut in a one-off Test against Wales in Washington on 2 June 2018. However, a largely second-string side suffered an inauspicious defeat and while Smith had found his way on to the national radar, he didn’t feature for the Springboks again that year.
There was always a bigger picture in mind, though, and the abrasive loose forward says he knew exactly where he stood and what he needed to do to break back into the Springboks’ playing squad.
‘When I made my debut two years back in Washington, the coaches told me they just wanted me to keep playing the same brand of rugby I did with the Lions and in Japan. They were extremely honest with me about what was expected. To come from sevens and to be able to break into the Springbok side was a great honour.’
Coming off an outstanding Vodacom Super Rugby season last year – where he top-scored for the Lions with seven tries in 11 matches – the 26-year-old was rewarded with a start in the Rugby Championship as the Boks secured a draw with the All Blacks in Wellington and he featured twice against Argentina.
Ultimately, when it comes to Springbok selection, one of the fundamental attributes the coaches look for is a player who has something different. Call it X factor, or any other term you like, but Rassie Erasmus has always been a big fan of players with courage, a high work rate and unquantifiable strength that sets them apart. As a former sevens player with unique attributes, Smith fits the bill.
Despite immense competition for the Springboks’ few back-row berths, Smith duly earned World Cup inclusion. Although he would only start two pool games, against lowly Namibia and Canada, the Boks championed the importance of a complete squad effort on the way to claiming the Webb Ellis trophy for the third time.
‘It was amazing for me to get into the squad at the beginning of the Rugby Championship; that’s where it all started to build up,’ Smith reflects. ‘It can be difficult if you’re not in the team every week but we had a great squad spirit. Schalk Brits brought great energy and we did our best to prepare the team for each opposition during training. The sessions were intense, but also lots of fun.
‘To end the journey by lifting the World Cup was so special. Then you get back home and the reality hits you. We got off the plane at OR Tambo airport and went on the trophy tour; that’s when you see how everyone was united and how much it meant to everyone in South Africa. You look back and see that you’ve made a difference in the bigger picture.’
*Read more about Smith’s journey with the Springboks, his plans for the future and how he coped with the Covid-19 outbreak in the new issue of the magazine which is now on sale.