Springboks have Deon Fourie conundrum after Kwagga Smith blow

Springboks flank Kwagga Smith is tackled during the Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand.

Springboks flank Kwagga Smith has suffered an injury that will rule him out of the series against Ireland. Picture: Anne-Christine Poujoulat / AFP

Published Jan 27, 2024


Springboks star Kwagga Smith is in danger of missing the two-Test series against Ireland in July after undergoing groin surgery this week.

The 30-year-old loose forward – who was one of the mainstays off the bench in South Africa's fourth World Cup triumph in France last year – sustained the injury on January 13 while playing for his Japanese club Shizuoka Blue Revs, incidentally while playing against Bok teammate Cheslin Kolbe's Suntory Sungoliath side.

The first Test against Ireland takes place at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on July 6, with the second encounter a week later at Kings Park in Durban.

SA Rugby also announced yesterday that a third July Test, against Portugal, will be held at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on July 20, which will be followed by the Rugby Championship against New Zealand, Australia and Argentina.

Shizuoka announced yesterday that Smith – who has 40 Test caps – will be out for five months, which means that he will be sidelined until the middle of June.

“Thank you for all the support. The surgery went well. Let the road to recovery begin,” Smith said in an Instagram post after the operation to fix an adductor tendon rupture.

The Japanese season would have been completed by then, so there will be no opportunity for Smith to get any game-time before the Ireland series.

His impact as a replacement off the bench and ability to fulfil all three loose-forward roles was a major part of the Boks' success last year as he dovetailed with the regular starting loose trio of captain Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Jasper Wiese, with now-retired Duane Vermeulen also involved.

If the former Lions star is not ready for the Ireland series, it would make Deon Fourie an even more important member of the bench as the loose-forward cover, and possibly end his days as a back-up hooker – which he had to do for most of the World Cup final after the early injury to Bongi Mbonambi.

But SA director of rugby Rassie Erasmus may just call on Fourie in the front row again, as there is sufficient loose-forward cover at openside flank in the shape of Bulls star Marco van Staden, while his franchise teammate Marcell Coetzee is another option.

Malcolm Marx has still not recovered from the knee surgery that saw him sent home from the World Cup and miss the entire Japanese club season with Kubota Spears.

It is unclear when Marx will be back on the field, while Mbonambi has also not played since the World Cup final injury – although the Sharks have stated that he should be able to play in their next United Rugby Championship clash against the Stormers on February 17.

If both Marx and Mbonambi are not 100 percent for the Ireland series, Fourie is the next-in-line at hooker.

Bulls powerhouse Akker van der Merwe has been arguably the best SA-based No 2 this season, with Joseph Dweba not quite firing for the Stormers, where youngster André-Hugo Venter has excelled in recent months.

Another Bulls hooker, Jan-Hendrik Wessels, seems to have sorted out his lineout-throwing problems in the last few games and has always been busy in the tight-loose, and the Pretoria side will today welcome back regular first-choice Johan Grobbelaar from a long-term hamstring injury against the Lions,.

Bok boss Erasmus will also hope other currently injured World Cup winners such as Jesse Kriel, Faf de Klerk, RG Snyman, Jean Kleyn and Vincent Koch will be back to full fitness in time for the Ireland series, while tighthead prop Frans Malherbe is expected to return from a back problem for the Stormers against the Sharks on February 17.