Playing the All Blacks always get Kwagga Smith excited as mega Rugby World Cup final looms

Kwagga Smith has made a huge impact off the bench for the Springboks. Photo: Steve Haag Sports via BackPagePix

Kwagga Smith has made a huge impact off the bench for the Springboks. Photo: Steve Haag Sports via BackPagePix

Published Oct 26, 2023


As someone who’s played against the All Blacks at almost every level of international rugby, Springbok loose forward Kwagga Smith is relishing the opportunity to play South Africa’s old foe in the World Cup final in Paris on Saturday.

The versatile loose forward has faced the haka as a Junior Springbok, a Blitzbok and in Test rugby.

But now he and his teammates will get to face the Maori war dance and New Zealand in the first final between the sides since the 1995 tournament in South Africa.

They will play for the Webb Ellis Cup at the Stade de France (kick-off 9pm), where the Boks were successful back in 2007.

Smith has always spoken highly about the respect there is between the two nations’ rugby sides, but, says the Olympian, for 80 minutes or maybe 100 minutes – if the game goes to extra-time – they will climb into one another looking to get the upper hand in the contest.

“For me, playing against the All Blacks is just an honour. I know it’s going to be physical but it gets me up and I am excited for that,” said Smith.

“I have been playing against the All Blacks in all forms (of the game). I mean, I played Under-20s against them when Ardie (Savea) played for them and then I played Sevens against them and now 15s also.

“Like we said, there’s a lot of respect between each other and we know we are going to bring out the best in each other.

“The breakdown is always important but especially against New Zealand ... it’s a massive thing,” Smith added.

“We’ve been working a lot on it but I know they’re really good fetchers. So, we’ve got to be sharp, we’ve got to make sure we keep our own ball. They are good players and I really rate them (New Zealand’s loose trio).”

The Boks, from No 1 to 23, will have to be at their best to halt the

All Blacks’ march to a record fourth world title and to achieve this feat themselves.

South Africa will also, with a win, become only the second team, after their opponents, to win back-to-back World Cups.

And the bench will play another vital role in their aspirations.

Smith has been at his outstanding best for his side, especially with his game-breaking ability as a replacement and in the quarter and semi-finals, he played a pivotal role and brought the energy as part of the ‘Bomb Squad’ that changed the course of both play-offs in France.

“Since 2019, the bench has had a massive impact with the Springboks, so it’s something that’s been building up for years now. When we are on the bench, we know we have a responsibility to fulfil,” said the 30-year-old former Lions stalwart, who plays his club rugby for Yamaha Jubilo in Japan these days.

“Playing in the final, we know it’s going to be 80 minutes – maybe it might go to 100 minutes, you never know.

You know you’ve got to be ready and make sure you use your opportunity when you get it.

“For the England game, he (Rassie Erasmus, SA’s Director of Rugby) told us on the bench before the game that it’s going to be a massive one.

“At half-time, he just said to us, ‘Listen, this is your game to win. It doesn’t help to wait for someone else – this is the bench’s time to go up and make a difference’.”