Cape Town – The Springboks have a special head-scratcher, albeit among other positional quandaries, as they earmark a player to operate as fetcher in their European tour opener against the Barbarians at Wembley Stadium on November 5.
For the international season so far, head coach Allister Coetzee has relied consistently on Francois Louw (the first-choice) and Jaco Kriel (bench back-up) as his open-side flanks.
But both men are ineligible for the BaaBaas date as it falls outside the World Rugby window, so Bath-based Louw will be committed to his English Premiership club -- if fit, after his early exit from the Boks’ Durban thrashing by the All Blacks with a knee problem – whilst the Lions’ tearaway Kriel has already left to begin obligations in Japan.
South Africa will be back to considerably fuller staffing for the first of three Tests on the end-of-year mission – against England at Twickenham on November 12 – but finding a suitable, interim No 6 for the Barbarians encounter is a challenge for Coetzee and company.
That is why a prominent showing from another Lions-based player, Kwagga Smith, in the role on Currie Cup semi-finals day on Saturday could just catapult him into the Bok mix for the non-Test assignment.
Smith has been leading the Lions’ late-season charge into the knockout phase both as a dynamic player and acting skipper; the defending champions crucially won both of their last two league games to sneak into the last four and now play the top-placed, in-form Cheetahs in the first semi in Bloemfontein (15:00).
The 23-year-old from Lydenburg, still better known to this point for his exploits in the SA Sevens team, certainly looks the most attractive potential candidate for the Boks’ tour opener if you examine the open-siders on display in the Currie Cup semi-finals – the others are Paul Schoeman (Cheetahs), Roelof Smit (Bulls) and Rynhardt Elstadt, the no-frills WP utility forward who still somehow seems a better fit as a blind-sider or even lock.
Smith has admitted that, since his return to the XVs fold, he has relished playing to the ball, which is exactly what’s required of a Bok No 6 when they spend November slugging their way through matches on the slow, lush pitches of the northern hemisphere.
The nuggety character has made a regular nuisance of himself at breakdowns during the Currie Cup but, like Lions franchise-mate Kriel, also excels as a linking, stepping factor in open play where he has a fine turn of speed and breaks tackles impressively.
In short, he has a massively willing engine and his combined attributes have the potential to make him a bit of a “bolter” against the Barbarians – the kind of entertainment-geared match in which his array of skills would hopefully come to the fore, assuming his gets the nod.
It would not earn him a Test cap if summoned but should he make the most of any opportunity, he would stamp a mark for Bok deployment at the superior level almost immediately afterwards …
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