Kwagga Smith to show his true stripes against the British Lions
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JOHANNESBURG – It would be a brave call to decree who will leave Cape Town victorious on Saturday night, such is the uncertainty surrounding the first Test between the Springboks and British and Irish Lions.
There are still many unanswered questions surrounding both match-day squads.
Will the Boks be undercooked? Have they had enough time, Covid-19 and all, to prepare and be match-ready? Will the returning players – captain Siya Kolisi, Handre Pollard and Makazole Mampimpi – make the desired impact; and is that frontrow honestly the best trio to start with?
For the Lions, an equal measure of uncertainty abounds. We’ve seen much more of them in the past weeks than the Boks, and yet many are still unsure that the match-day 23 selected for the opening Test is indeed the strongest they could have picked.
Is captain Alun Wyn Jones up to speed? Why was Owen Farrell left to keep the bench warm, and not the natural partner of Dan Biggar in the 10-12 channel? Is Taulupe Faletau not the better option at eightman, instead of
Jack Conan, and equally why is, with all due respect to Stuart Hogg, Liam Williams not starting at full-back?
Where is the Mish?
The one Bok selection that I have no quarrel with, however, is Kwagga Smith at No 8. I know on social media, and in the zeitgeist of popular opinion, the former Blitzbok was not the most popular selection. A number of brows were furrowed, and dissent immediate when his name was called. Comparisons were almost instantly made between Albertus Stephanus and the injured, man-mountain and indomitable Duane Vermeulen.
I’ll admit that we have not seen the best out of Smith in the Green and Gold – he has had his moments, but there has been a fair share of anonymity on his part when he has played for the national team. Nevertheless, comparing the two – Smith and Vermeulen – is not equitable.
Vermeulen is a force of nature that will roll over opposition like an avalanche, while Smith is arguably more nuanced in his approach. He will still give no quarter, but he adds a degree of pace and verve to a pack filled with bashers and bruisers.
We have seen that the B&I Lions are willing to employ a running game, one based on speed and precision – and this is where a player like Kwagga can be a most disruptive entity, one that can get in among their breakdown and spoil possession, and which can track back at speed to scrabble in defence in the wider channels.
Yes, I admit I would choose Vermeulen any day over any player, in any team, but I have a feeling in the marrow that the plan that the Lions unfurl on Saturday will align nicely with the manner in which Smith conducts himself.
The first Test might finally reveal the true talent and skill of Kwagga, and if it does, he might become the unheralded hero in the Bok effort.
Kolisi, as beloved as he is, as talismanic as his presence is, might be the bigger concern in the loose trio.
Kwagga will do the business for us on Saturday, or he will die trying.