JOHANNESBURG – Sevens sensation Kwagga Smith has decided to focus only on the 15-man game in an attempt to become a Springbok and play at next year’s World Cup in Japan.
The 24-year-old, who also plays as openside flank for the Lions, announced his decision to put sevens on hold on Tuesday afternoon.
He said he had sat down with the Lions management and also spoken to Blitzbok coach Neil Powell before making the call.
The long-term injury to Springbok and Lions teammate Jaco Kriel, who also specialises as an openside flank, made Smith bring his decision forward.
“My goal for the next two years is to become a Springbok... I want to wear the green and gold in 15s, and for me to achieve that, I need to play as often as possible for the Lions,” said Smith on Tuesday.
“We’ve sat down and spoken about it. If Jaco (Kriel) was fit and ready to play, then it would have been okay for me to go to the Commonwealth Games (in mid-April). But it doesn’t help if I go there and also get injured; that would hurt the Lions.
“Neil (Powell) knows what my goals are, and now that Jaco is out (for six months), I’m not going to be released for the Commonwealth Games. This is my decision; it makes sense.
“I want to be a Springbok. I already missed one game (two weekends ago against the Bulls) and don’t want to miss more.
“I want to give myself the best chance I can to play for the Boks, and go to the World Cup, and that obviously means me playing as often as possible for the Lions.”
Smith also revealed he had signed on to play Super Rugby for another year with the Lions; his new deal now ending after next year’s competition.
The versatile flank’s uninterrupted availability for the Lions in the Super Rugby competition will be a big boost for Swys de Bruin and his team, who not only have to make do without Kriel – who is only back in September – but also captain Warren Whiteley (knee injury) for the next four weeks.
Smith already has a Commonwealth Games gold medal, having been part of the Sevens team that beat New Zealand 17-12 in the final in Glasgow four years ago.
Whiteley was also part of that 12-man squad.
It won’t only be Smith looking to make a big impression on his national coach in the coming weeks, but a former Cheetahs and Bulls player in Lappies Labuschagne, too, who is hoping to represent Japan at the World Cup next year.
And the two openside specialists are set for a head-to-head battle at Ellis Park this weekend when the Lions host the men from Tokyo, for whom Labuschagne now plays.
While the Sunwolves are not the scariest team to face, it’ll be a big test for the Lions, who are coming off a rare defeat last weekend against the Blues.
“We learnt a lot in that game,” said Smith. “We weren’t as focused as we needed to be, especially in the final 20 minutes.
“Things got a bit panicky, but the good thing is it’s early in the season and we’ve got time to make up for it.”
And with regards to him facing the Sunwolves and Labuschagne this weekend, Smith said: “Every week is a different challenge... and we certainly can’t underestimate them.
“What we really need to do is ensure we get back to our own high standards and play accordingly for the full 80 minutes.”