Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell believes Blitzboks and Lions star Kwagga Smith possesses the work ethic and attributes to also make it the highest level in the 15-man game, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Over the past few seasons, Smith has established himself as an integral member of the Blitzboks squad, but this year he’s also particularly made an impression for the Lions.
Although Smith’s Super Rugby season was blighted by a red card that he received in the season’s final against the Crusaders, the fact remains that he played a key role for the Lions in the weeks leading up to that title decider.
Stepping into a starting role during the latter stages of Super Rugby, Smith’s explosive power, pure pace and natural skills underlined his abilities as a unique species of loose forward, while seeing him being spoken of as a genuine Bok contender.
In the end, Smith missed out on Springbok selection, but has now turned his attention to Currie Cup action with the Lions. He will then return to the Blitzboks for the first four tournaments of the 2017-18 World Rugby Sevens Series.
Powell said they were certainly looking forward to welcoming fifteens players such as Smith back into the Springbok Sevens setup once their domestic duties had been completed.
‘It’s great that Kwagga is one of those players who still has a real desire to play sevens, and I think he definitely still has that goal in mind to go to the 2020 Olympics, and so we need to manage him well in terms of balancing his workload.
‘When talking about Kwagga, there’s always one thing that comes to mind, and that’s his work ethic. He will work and work and work without stopping.
‘He’s also deceptively quick, as I think a lot of Super Rugby teams found out when he scored those breakaway tries this season, and he’s very strong as well. He’s got that natural farmer boy strength,’ Powell added with a laugh in reference to the Smith’s family farm in Mpumalanga.
Unless Smith is included in the Springboks’ end-of-year squad, he will start the next sevens season with the Blitzboks before returning to the Lions ahead of the 2018 Super Rugby competition.
Powell said he certainly hoped Smith would play a key role for the Blitzboks in the lead-up to and at the next Olympics, but he also stated his desire to see the 24-year-old make his Test debut in the near future.
‘I have said it before that I might be a bit biased towards Kwagga because he’s been with us [in the sevens system] since he came out of school, but I really believe he can make it. I think Super Rugby is as close to international rugby as you can get, and he’s already shown that he can do well at that level.
‘I really hope he gets his opportunity [with the Boks], and I’m sure he’ll be ready should it come. I think the one thing that is perhaps keeping him from playing international rugby at this stage is the fact that he is not tall enough as a flank to offer another lineout option, but he has so many other strengths,’ he added.
‘He’s got the skills to make it, and especially out wide as a forward, it’s almost like having another backline player. I think he’s got better decision-making and running skills than some backs, and we saw in Super Rugby how he operated in the wider channels and not only scored tries, but also created opportunities for others. He provides that extra attacking option.’
Ultimately, Powell said it was just encouraging to see how sevens and fifteens players continued to make an impact across both codes.
‘I think there’s always been that question if sevens players can play fifteens as well, but I think we’ve seen now that sevens can really contribute to the fifteens game. It develops individual skills really nicely, and we still do see sevens as a pathway to help develop players for fifteens, whether it be for Super Rugby or the Springboks. We want to play our part in that developmental role and to help make South African rugby as strong as possible.
‘I think the fact that a few guys have played quite a bit of fifteens rugby now will also help them to be better sevens players,’ Powell continued. ‘One of the areas I think where it helps is just with that physicality. In sevens there is a lot of room and maybe not so much contact, but in fifteens you have to be physical, make your tackles and man up when those big forwards are running at you. So I definitely think both codes can help each other out.’
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