CAPE TOWN – One thing Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus is looking forward to is seeing how Kwagga Smith goes against the All Blacks on Saturday after a “proper build-up to Test rugby”.
Erasmus yesterday named a much-changed team for their Wellington showdown, with 12 changes to the starting team that beat the Wallabies 35-17 in their Rugby Championship opener at Ellis Park last week.
The rest of the line-up mostly consists of the first group of players who travelled to New Zealand last Thursday.
Smith - who comes in at openside flank - is one of those changes, while Pieter-Steph du Toit retains his spot at blindside flank. Duane Vermeulen will fill out the loose trio at No 8, and he also takes over the captaincy from Eben Etzebeth.
It will be only Smith’s second Test; the first coming against Wales in Washington last year, where preparation time was limited and Erasmus employed a similar split-squad approach.
Smith's speed is a good addition to a back row that suffices in physicality, go-forward and mongrel. He’ll also provide that urgency to and at the breakdown.
But the fact that the Boks have a good group of ball-stealers in the team outside the No 6 position indicates that Erasmus didn’t just circle Smith’s name looking for a candidate to play to the ball and compete on the ground.
During the team announcement press conference, the Bok coach described the Lions loose forward as a “ball-player”, a description more than fitting if you look at the what he can do with ball in hand, his knack for popping up in the wider channels and the overall more flair-filled edge he brings to the pack and the presence he can be in broken play.
He can be a link.
He’s deceptively strong in the carry.
He can fulfill his basic role.
He can create with a break and use that awareness to spot space and give the try-creating offload.
He can add to his impressive highlights reel showing him carrying the ball in one hand while pacing downfield to finish it himself.
And that’s where the ball-player role comes in. He won’t just be on the field to be a scavenger.
“He’s only played that one game against Wales in Washington. It was a tough one with only two or three days of preparation. So I haven’t really had a chance to coach Kwagga into a proper Test match. Now we have had two weeks of proper coaching before he will play for us.
“Overall, I think he is energetic. He is opportunistic and a ball-player. He has a big engine on him. Obviously he is not one of the biggest guys but if you take guys like Sam Cane and those kinds of guys, he matches them size-wise.
He’s got a big heart and is a great team man and I guess what he does on attack and defence matches almost any other player in Super Rugby.
“It is going to be very interesting to see what he does at a Test-match level, having had a proper build-up.”@WynonaLouw