JOHANNESBURG – He got married in December on a day he’ll say was the most significant in his life, but there could be equally significant days ahead in 2018 for Kwagga Smith - from a sporting perspective anyway.
Not only is the SA Sevens star and Lions flanker chasing a first Springbok call-up this year but he’s also hoping to be part of the title winning Sevens team at both the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast in April and the Sevens World Cup in San Francisco in July.
It’s no surprise then that Smith is excited about the year ahead.
“It’s going to be a big one, with lots of nice challenges, and I’m certainly going to have a few big decisions to make,” said the 24-year-old.
“Those tournaments have huge appeal and I’d very much like to be a part of them, but no decisions have yet been made. The Lions will also have a big say in whether I get released to play for the Sevens team or not,” said Smith.
“But the biggest goal for me this year is to make it into the Springboks set-up, to be very honest. And if I’m going to give myself the best chance to achieve that goal I need to play Super Rugby and get measured against the best in Australia and New Zealand.”
The Australasian teams will come later on, but first up for Smith and the Lions are the Sharks, who they host at Ellis Park this weekend when the new season of Super Rugby kicks off.
Not only is it a big year for Smith and a number of his teammates, but for the team as a whole who are under new management and looking to make it third time lucky after losing in the final in 2016 and 2017.
“It’s a big year for the team, but we all know each other, and coach Swys (de Bruin) has been with us for a long time already,” said the speedy flanker.
“It’s a nice challenge waiting for us and we’re certainly going to do our best to go one step further than last year.”
The Lions are without their specialist blindside flank from last year, Ruan Ackermann, and regular No 6 Jaco Kriel is still injured, so De Bruin’s loose-trio - which was so destructive and dominant last season - is going to have something of a new look about it.
But, in Smith they have a very capable replacement and there are also a number of young loose forwards waiting for their chance to shine.
“Of course we’ll miss some guys this year, but we’ve got quality depth here, and lots of variety among the loosies.
“Cyle Brink is a solid performer who’s been around for a while now and then there are the youngsters like Willie Engelbrecht, Hacjivah (Dayimani) and Marnus Schoeman from the Pumas.
“I’m going to have to work even harder than last year to get into the team.
“I enjoyed a good 2017 season and I was happy with my form, but there’s always room for improvement, and you know someone is always going to be pushing you. I just want to get better, do my best for the team and enjoy myself.”
After back-to-back appearances in the final and becoming the dominant force in local rugby the Lions will again have a target on their backs, but that’s something they should relish, said Smith.
“It’s something that’s going to happen when you play in the final; the guys are going to come out and try do everything they can to knock us over, to prove something, and that’ll start with the Sharks this weekend.
“But it also forces us to keep working harder, to get better and stronger. We have to use our position to our advantage, but the key will be to stay focused on our own game and what we want to achieve.”
The Lions’ match against the Sharks kicks off at 5.15pm on Saturday.