Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – You
have to be cautious in making any suggestion that Kwagga Smith “cost” the Lions
last year’s home Super Rugby final against the Crusaders.
be succumbing to over-emotion.
Yes, his red
card two minutes short of halftime hammered a pretty hefty nail into the Johannesburg
But a few
had gone in already, remember.
Although playing second fiddle at that stage
for both territory and possession, the ever-wily ‘Saders were demonstrating
better composure and that went some way to explaining their 12-3 lead even
before Smith – an unlikely victim of such harsh sanction, really – got his
banishment from Jaco Peyper.
In a split
second of madness, the mobile flanker had clattered into the visitors’ fullback
David Havili in the air, and a bad landing by the victim made the early shower
inevitable in the minds of many a sober critic.
remained gutsy enough (they usually are; a passionate team ethic is etched into
their collective DNA) for the rest of the showpiece but duly succumbed 25-17,
hardly aided by those 42 minutes of being a man down.
popular Albertus Smith – so much more widely known by his nickname, as was a
certain John “Bakkies” Botha just up the road in Pretoria, for example – would
have felt fairly mortified about his costly lapse in the losing team’s
post-game dressing room.
difficult not to believe that at least one reason for his fizzy, workmanlike form
in the knockout phase of the 2018 competition thus far has been down to a
tangible desire for atonement.
Fuelled by his
fully-warranted status as official player of the match in Saturday’s up-tempo
semi-final disposal of the Waratahs at Emirates Airline Park, the 25-year-old
Smith should be even more motivated than several squad-mates to turn the tables
on the very same Crusaders on their own terrain, in this weekend’s first ever
consecutive “repeat” final in the competition.
Lions supporters, having to tackle the most successful side in tournament
history in the final all over again may seem rough justice for their team’s
efforts to this juncture: to Smith it may feel more like a bonus, for obvious
that despite the significant drawback of this year’s showpiece being in
Christchurch, with all the long-haul travel and other impediments attached from
a Lions perspective, the player himself is a useful year wiser now as a
franchise rugby “fifteens” participant.
2017 campaign, Smith was still getting fully to grips with the consistent demands
of Super Rugby as he was a recent convert at the time from Sevens, having been
a key figure for several years – and almost 160 appearances – in the BlitzBoks’
been noticeably fewer occasions this year, by my book, when he has struggled to
impose himself meaningfully on a Super Rugby match.
seems to be getting the balance more deftly tuned between his “run-around”
activities as an open-sider and the need to get stuck in feverishly at the
that emerging, multi-pronged giant of a hooker in Malcolm Marx, Smith was a
proper nuisance to the Waratahs (admittedly badly missing one Michael Hooper) in
both pilfering and slowing opposition ball down in that department.
But he shone
powerfully in open play, too, including that commendable bust-out from a tackle
for one of his brace of tries – he’s always been adept at that, probably a
benefit carried over from his Sevens tenure.
One of the
Lions’ best, broad strengths, too, is the ability of several of their players,
regardless of specific berth on the park, to run smart, creative lines in heavy
traffic … so often leading to something productive in an attack sense as play
unexpectedly opens up and the enemy is unprepared for it.
ranks fall men like Aphiwe Dyantyi, Lionel Mapoe, Franco Mostert, Warren
Whiteley … and most certainly Smith, too.
might be said to have blown his maiden exposure to Test rugby several weeks
ago, when he couldn’t get genuinely into the game against Wales in a damp,
slippery Washington DC.
But it was a
controversial, barely Test-worthy exercise, new coach Rassie Erasmus putting
out a scratch, callow team who simply could not have been expected to gel at
such indecent notice.
recently for the Lions, Smith has been making up lost ground in the quest to
woo Erasmus once more – with the Rugby Championship in mind – and another
full-blooded showing in the taxing environment of AMI Stadium this Saturday
will only lift his Bok stocks further.
there are plenty of gurus who still believe the national side are short of an
orthodox, spring-heeled, low-centre-of-gravity “mole” at No 6.
now, Smith has entirely other matters on his mind, you can be sure …
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: