Kwagga Smith will look to match the impact of Jaco Kriel for the Lions. Photo: Samuel Shivambu, BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – It’s now Kwagga Smith’s time to shine.

Having given up the sevens game when Super Rugby came around in February – to give the 15s game a full and proper go – the slightly built 23-year-old has had to wait patiently for a proper opportunity to show what he can do.

Smith has featured quite prominently for the Lions’ Currie Cup team in the last two years – once he was done with his sevens duties – but has only played a limited part in Super Rugby this season, coming off the bench in virtually every game so far.

The only match he’s started was against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires at the beginning of March – and that wasn’t a match he’ll fondly remember as the Lions were comprehensively outplayed.

Otherwise, he’s had to wait for his turn behind the almost irreplaceable Jaco Kriel.

Kriel, though, will play no part for the Lions on their three-match Australian tour, starting this weekend when they take on the Western Force in Perth, opening the door for Smith to start for the Lions.

Kriel has stayed home to sort out a knee problem picked up while playing against the Jaguares last Friday night and while Smith will be hungry for action, the Lions will feel the loss of their first choice openside flank as they go in search of three wins. They also face the Rebels and Brumbies on tour.

The man many feel should be handed the Springbok No 6 shirt this season has compiled an impressive record this season, ranking well in a number of departments.

He is third in the competition for turnovers won (eight), sixth for line-breaks (six), seventh for number of ball-carries (76), 11th for number of off-loads (nine) and 23rd for tackle completion (92%), according to alloutrugby.com.

Kriel has also scored four tries, but it is his general presence on the field, his leadership and whole-hearted attitude, that will be missed in the coming weeks.

Smith, though, will be champing at the bit. He arrived in Perth on Monday having played only 174 minutes all season, having sat on the replacements bench on seven occasions, as Kriel started.

The sevens star, who’s made a few telling contributions from the bench, is highly rated by his coach Johan Ackermann, and he’ll now want to make a big impact after giving up on playing for the World Series-leading Blitzboks this year.

Smith and Seabelo Senatla played only in the first four tournaments, and then turned their attention to the 15-man game; to experience something different after spending several years on the Sevens circuit, and in Senatla’s case, to push for possible Springbok inclusion.

He sadly picked up an injury early on in his stint with the Stormers, and will be out of action for some time yet.

But Smith will now combine with captain Warren Whiteley and Ruan Ackermann to form the Lions loose trio on tour, and you can be sure he’ll make a big impression.

He might be a small man at just 1.8m tall and tipping the scales at 90kg, but he’s got great pace, excellent hands, and has all the skills associated with sevens players.

He’s also a strong defender... so while the Lions will miss Kriel, they’ll gain a lot in having Smith in the ranks in the next few weeks.

@jacq_west

Independent Media