JOHANNESBURG - Kwagga Smith isn’t looking specifically to make up for last year’s mishap when he was red-carded in the Super Rugby final. He’s just grateful he’s got another chance to fight for the title, albeit a small chance, in faraway Christchurch this weekend.
Smith’s mid-air collision with Crusaders fullback David Havili, and subsequent red card, meant the Lions had to play the bulk of the 2017 final with 14 men. When the flanker was sent off in the 38th minute of the first half at his beloved Ellis Park, the name of the Crusaders could just as well have been engraved on the trophy. The Lions, though, battled on and finished strongly but their spirit and drive had been broken on the stroke of half-time and they succumbed 25-17 in the end.
Smith returned this season, gave up his Sevens commitments in an effort to win a Springbok cap - which duly happened - and he goes into Saturday’s final in Christchurch, against the same Crusaders, in red-hot form, having won the Man of the Match award in the semi-final against the Waratahs. He said on Monday, hours before the team’s departure to New Zealand, he wasn’t specifically looking to make up for a lost opportunity last year.
“For me, it’s another opportunity to play in a final, and that’s a privilege,” he said. “We had a chance last year, I slipped up, but we’ve got another chance this year, and I’ll again play to the best of my ability. I know what happened last year (the red card offence) wasn’t something cynical on my part; I didn’t do it intentionally. It’s something that just happened ... I missed focus for a second, but those are the moments that make a difference in a final.”
Smith said the days after that final were tough, but he found peace on the family farm in Mpumalanga: “I went and had some quiet time with the family; it helped. I needed to get away from rugby and people." While Smith, by his own admission, hasn’t had as good a season as he did last year, he still became a Bok, after giving up his Sevens career, but there’s more he wants to achieve.