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.
The WILL must be bigger than the fear of failure. 💪🏻 Working hard and having the WILL to succeed is the only thing that made me who I am today. #WillFindAWayZA #TBT @underarmourza Stand a chance to win UA gear 💥 Share your personal story in a post about "WILL" -Follow and tag @underarmourza @kwaggasmith #WillFindsAWayZA
A post shared by Kwagga (@kwaggasmith) on
“I’ve been blessed. I got my Bok colours and that was always a dream of mine. But another dream was to win the Super Rugby competition," he said. "We had a chance last year; it didn’t happen, but we’ve got that opportunity again. And how special won’t it be if we can go there to Christchurch and do it against the Crusaders ... that really would be a dream come true.”
Asked what it would take for the Lions to stop the Crusaders - the eight-time champions and a team who haven’t lost a knockout game in 20 matches at home - Smith said: “We must just believe in ourselves and do our job. They are a good team, but so are we. We can’t worry about them, and what people are saying, we can only focus on us.
"We definitely don’t believe it is mission impossible. If we stick to our gameplan we’ll be up for the money. We’ve got a good pack, with lots of experience, and if we can get things started there then the backs can do well and finish off.”
Smith may not be saying it publicly, but he’ll be burning inside to make up for last year’s final mishap. Expect a big, extra-special performance from the little No 6 on Saturday.