COMMENT: Why Springboks must start Kwagga Smith in World Cup final

Kwagga Smith deserves to be selected for the Springboks Rugby Worl Cup final. Photo: EPA

Kwagga Smith deserves to be selected for the Springboks Rugby Worl Cup final. Photo: EPA

Published Oct 25, 2023


One of the more unfortunate social media nicknames for a Springbok rugby player is Kwagga Smith’s ‘Wrong Turn’, due to the number of times the loose forward has broken his nose.

But while people can be nasty on social media, the 30-year-old former Lions stalwart – who now plays for Japanese club Yamaha Jubilo – has been one of the unsung heroes of the Boks’ run to Saturday’s Rugby World Cup title decider against the All Blacks at Stade de France (9pm kick-off).

Used as an integral part of the ‘Bomb Squad’ in the big games, Smith has made a number of telling contributions over the last seven weeks.

He was at it again in last Saturday’s thrilling 16-15 semi-final triumph over England. Coming on in the 50th minute for No 8 Duane Vermeulen, Smith brought the necessary spark that had been missing in the Bok pack up to that point.

His work-rate on and off the ball makes a tangible difference. He takes the ball up with ferocity, hunts down opposition ball-carriers, times his breakdown raids perfectly and puts his head into dark place on the pitch.

And it is all those attributes that the defending champions will need in spades against the All Blacks on Saturday.

This contest won’t be as combative as the England semifinal. New Zealand will look to run the Boks off their feet in the opening quarter by stretching the defence and bringing their outside backs and loose forwards into the game.

As much as old warhorse Vermeulen is the canon that you take to a battle of attrition, Smith is the sniper that you need to counter the All Blacks’ high-tempo approach.

The Boks cannot afford to be as lacklustre in the first half against New Zealand as they were against England – the final might by over as a contest at half-time if that happens.

Smith’s job will be to chase after All Black scrumhalf Aaron Smith and harry him into mistakes all night long, thereby disrupting their rhythm on attack.

In addition, he will add real punch to the Bok attack with his speed across the ground when taking the ball up, as he takes interesting running lines and is hard to pin down.

The Boks will have captain Siya Kolisi and blindside flank Pieter-Steph du Toit to make the big hits and carries at close quarters but they need the speed of Smith to keep the likes of Ardie Savea, Richie Mo’unga, Mark Tele’a and Rieko Ioane in check.

And the South Africans need more than just 30 minutes of Smith at full tilt.

He has such an enormous engine on him that he can easily operate as an ‘Energizer bunny’ for 60 minutes.

Then Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber can introduce Vermeulen, Deon Fourie and even Marco van Staden off the bench for a relentless final quarter of high-intensity combat.

Smith, who has 39 Test caps to his name, was unfortunate to receive a red card – for taking out David Havili in the air – in the first half of the Lions’ 2017 Super Rugby final against the Crusaders at Ellis Park, with the Johannesburg side losing 25-17 in the end.

This is the opportunity for Smith to make a ‘right turn’ and make amends for that incident – by starring in a Springbok-winning effort in a World Cup final.