WELLINGTON – The Springboks will unleash Kwagga Smith against the All Blacks on Saturday when the two great Southern Hemisphere rivals meet in a Rugby Championship Test in Wellington.
The likeable loose forward will make only his second appearance in the Green and Gold following his Test debut last year against Wales in Washington.
A series of consistently good performances for the Emirates Lions in Vodacom Super Rugby has earned Smith a recall to the Springbok squad. And with inspirational captain Siya Kolisi currently out with a knee injury, the tenacious flank has been entrusted with the vacant No 6 jersey against the All Blacks.
Although Saturday’s much-anticipated and crunch fixture in the Westpac Stadium will not be the first time that the popular Johannesburg-based loose forward will be facing Kiwis, it will, however, be the first time he will face the might of the All Blacks in an official Test match.
After starring for several seasons for the Blitzboks, Smith turned his attention to fifteens rugby and established him as a stalwart for the Emirates Lions. Although he missed out on selection for the Springboks’ 2017 Castle Lager Outgoing Tour to France and the United Kingdom, he was invited to play for the Barbarians against the All Blacks and delivered a Man of the Match performance against the New Zealanders in London.
This weekend, Smith is set to make only his second international appearance for the Springboks in Saturday’s pressure cooker against the New Zealanders in the Cake Tin, where much more will be at stake than when he played for the free-spirited Barbarians.
“I don’t think I can describe my excitement for the weekend’s Test here in Wellington,” Smith told local media at the Springbok hotel earlier in the week.
“I’ve played against the All Blacks in the colours of the Barbarians but that was a different game and a very different week leading up to that math.
"For the Barbarians, you would have a fun week and really just one training session on the Thursday or so.
“That is very different compared to the build-up to a Test match between South Africa and New Zealand, especially for this match in Wellington.”
Smith and his Springbok colleagues are all too aware of New Zealand’s desire to rectify matters in front of their own demanding fans after last year’s epic South African victory.
On Saturday he will be part of a new-look loose trio which consists of new Springbok captain Duane Vermeulen (No 8) and the current SA Rugby Player of the Year, Pieter-Steph du Toit (flank).
“Duane is an awesome player and I have looked up to him since I was a schoolboy player,” explained Smith.
“It is a real honour for me to play with him, while Pieter-Steph is also a really good and hard-working player. However, I have an important job to do and I will give it my best shot on Saturday against the world’s best team.”
Bok coach Rassie Erasmus is expecting great things from the flanker and described him as “energetic, optimistic and a ball-player”.
"He has a big engine on him. Obviously, he is not one of the biggest guys, but if you take people like Sam Cane and those kinds of players, he matches them size-wise and he has a big heart and is a great team man,” said Erasmus.
“It is going to be very interesting to see what he does at Test level, having had a proper build-up which he didn’t have last year for that Wales Test.”
His great ability to pinch the ball and pop at the right times to either intercept or force many a turnover at Springbok Sevens and Vodacom Super Rugby level have been eye-catching, but now Smith gets the chance to display his qualities on a much higher stage.
Saturday’s game gets underway at 19h35 (SA time 09h35).
South Africa will wrap up their shortened Castle Lager Rugby Championship campaign in three weeks’ time against Argentina in Salta on 10 August, and Smith and his teammates will have another chance to impress and stake their claims for a spot in the Rugby World Cup squad when the Springboks host Argentina in Pretoria one week later.
The Springboks’ Rugby World Cup squad will be confirmed on Monday, 26 August, and although the competition for RWC squad paces is unbelievably fierce, Smith can stake a claim for himself by delivering another outstanding performance against the All Blacks in their own backyard.