Kwagga’s classy … but easy on accolades!

2017-11-06 12:46
Kwagga Smith (Gallo)

Cape Town - Kwagga Smith inspiring at Twickenham on Saturday? You bet.

On an otherwise relatively quiet weekend for the South African rugby public - in the hiatus between the Currie Cup final and the Springboks getting actively stuck into their four-Test European tour - the Lions-based tearaway loose forward’s name rightly found its way with much enthusiasm to the lips of many television-watchers back home.

The 24-year-old marauder’s unbridled energy and effervescence played no small part in ensuring a fitting Twickenham spectacle between the All Blacks and a not dissimilarly NZ-loaded Barbarians outfit.

Despite being nominally on the losing side in the 53-point roller-coaster ride, Smith did enough to earn the official player-of-the-match mantle, and there clearly weren’t too many quibbles.

“(Smith) may not be the biggest but he played with zest and zip throughout,” wrote Mick Cleary in The Daily Telegraph.

Paul Rees of The Guardian was barely less effusive: “The Barbarians indulged in the outrageous, led by their two flankers, Steven Luatua and Kwagga Smith.

“As well as the threat he posed in possession, (Smith) helped the Barbarians achieve the rare feat in today’s climate of earning three penalties at the breakdown as the defending side.”

But there was also, of course, some significance in Rees talking of “the outrageous” and Cleary, further, noting: “The crowd got their money’s worth, with switchback entertainment, full of thrust and parry.”

Speaking afterwards, BaaBaas coach Robbie Deans opined that the Barbarians spirit was “alive and well”.

All of those statements serve as reminders, really, of just how different in ethos and playing style Barbarians matches traditionally are, and will probably only continue to be, from Test matches, or certainly those between genuinely well-matched foes.

It was also why I stopped short of joining the almost inevitable castigation on social media of Bok coach Allister Coetzee for the quite heinous crime, it seemed, of overlooking Smith in his tour squad.

For one thing, there was no such level of vehemence about Smith’s omission - am I correct on that score? - when the Bok party was actually named, even if there will always be critics who question (not without good merit to their cases, admittedly) the snubbing of any Brussow/Cloete/Smith type of open-side terriers.

No, the criticism has come mostly in the wake of the fast and loose events at Twickenham on Saturday and, for reasons already alluded to, I would argue that there is at least some element of a knee-jerk trend, of an over-the-top reaction to Smith’s vibrancy in an essentially “festival” encounter.

I made the point on Twitter in mid-match on Saturday that Smith was tailor-made for a Barbarians match, given his incredible speed, mobility, opportunism and the skills he has so obviously transferred from his prior, highly-valued employment at the heart of the Blitzboks’ plans in the Sevens landscape.

His attributes may very well be transferable to the Test environment and yes, it is quite possible Coetzee missed a bit of a trick when he replaced, a few days ago, injury-struck blindside flanker Jean-Luc du Preez with a lock (Ruan Botha) in the squad, only increasing the likelihood that versatile Pieter-Steph du Toit will see significant service at No 7 over the next few weeks.

Remember that even if Smith (1.80m, not much more than 90kg, reportedly) had cracked the nod as an emergency call-up, he would hardly been a like-for-like replacement anyway for the muscle-man Du Preez (1.94m, 113kg).

Besides, I would argue that the vast majority of lingering Bok shortcomings still lie in the backline, and particularly the outer berths, whereas South Africa have generally re-announced themselves during 2017 as possessors of a competitive, physical pack, something that has long been in their DNA.

Siya Kolisi has been playing some of his most dynamic Test rugby this season since his more regular identification – correctly, I have long argued - as an open-sider, which begs the question: where would you accommodate Smith if you viewed him as a potential Bok starter?

An orthodox, bruising blind-sider he certainly is not, of course.

No 8 is a possible option, but you could argue until the cows come home whether a notable lightweight on the scales like Smith - for all his undoubted heart and feverish industry - is the right call for the berth in the northern hemisphere early winter, where grinding gains at close quarters often determine the outcome of Test clashes on the scoreboard.

I will concede this much: he could be a dreamy game-breaking candidate to have if the Boks are pushing desperately for a come-from-behind win late on and struggling to break down the opposition’s dogged defensive wall.

Don’t get me wrong: should another gap suddenly appear for an additional loose forward in the greater Bok mix over the course of their Euro travels, Smith naturally is sticking up his hand with ever more noticeable eagerness and credibility.

He has still only played one full Super Rugby season thus far, remember, and should continue to develop in leaps and bounds in the “fifteens” fold during 2018 - putting him in line for his stated dream of making the cut for RWC 2019 in Japan.

But just don’t be too hasty to brand the Bok wise men nincompoops on the grounds that they didn’t take a barnstormer by Kwagga Smith into account in a BaaBaas thrill-a-minute treat, where broad smiles on dials aren’t always the preserve of the spectators.

The participants don’t disguise those too often, either ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  kwagga smith  |  rugby


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