While Kwagga Smith is a good player on the ground and has a lot of speed to get to the breakdowns, it’s his link play and ability to read the game that may have given him the nod to play against the All Blacks, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
Springbok boss Rassie Erasmus used words such as ‘opportunistic’ and ‘ball-player’ when he spoke about Kwagga Smith’s positive attributes after selecting him for Saturday’s Rugby Championship Test against the All Blacks. He also mentioned that the Lions flank had a ‘big engine’ and is a ‘great team man’.
These, I feel, were all clues to the type of role Erasmus has envisaged Smith will play in the Boks’ biggest Test match before the World Cup.
Smith hasn’t just been selected to play towards the ball and fight for possession on the ground as an out-and-out fetcher. If that was the case, Erasmus would in all likelihood have gone for a proven scavenger, such as a Francois Louw or Marcell Coetzee, who are good on the ground, but also offer good carrying and lineout options as a type of hybrid flank.
The Boks’ primary ball-stealers are Louw, Duane Vermeulen and Malcolm Marx at the moment, and the latter will be on the field against the All Blacks. So, to have picked another player who can compete hard for the ball on the ground is maybe not necessarily why Erasmus decided to go with Smith.
No, Smith’s role could be similar to what Warren Whiteley fulfilled in that epic clash between the two teams in Wellington last year.
Whiteley delivered a scintillating performance at the back of the Springboks’ scrum, with his work rate around the park and link play helping the Boks achieve what many thought would be impossible.
The Lions captain made 20-odd tackles during that match, which included a try-saving effort when he hunted down TJ Perenara inches from the Bok tryline. He also had a hand in a couple of Boks’ tries, with his game awareness and slick offloading in the tackle.
It was a super all-round performance that people seem to forget about after the exploits of players such as Pieter-Steph du Toit and Franco Mostert on that glorious day for South African rugby.
Whiteley started that game with Du Toit and Siya Kolisi – two great ball-carriers – and could concentrate more on doing the linking job, and he was especially effective from counter-attacks and broken play, where the Boks were so good in Wellington last year.
Smith is also a perfect fit for that role, especially as he will be playing with Vermeulen and Du Toit in the back row. Those big ball-carriers will provide the go-forward, while Smith can use his vision and ‘big engine’ to pop up in dangerous areas to collect or give that final scoring pass.
Smith will also add a lot of speed to the Bok effort, and be key to protect the ball on attack and keep a player such as ace All Black poacher Ardie Savea in check during the match.
If Smith can put in a similar sort of performance to the one Whiteley produced at the Cake Tin in 2018, then the Boks should fancy their chances to go back to back in New Zealand.
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