Sport / Columnists

Jon Swift
3 minute read
7 Nov 2017
1:20 pm

Kwagga too small? But what a big heart

Jon Swift

The wide smile, which is both an engaging and semi-permanent fixture on the face of the Former Free State Hooker, was missing in the wake of the All Blacks’ match against the Barbarians at Twickenham.

Jon Swift

This was a sure sign that he had weighty matters on his mind and a near certainty that this would involve his beloved sport of rugby. In a South African context, he subscribes to the line of thought espoused by late Liverpool managing great Bill Shankly that “winning or losing is not a matter of life or death; it’s much more important than that”.

But it was another issue entirely which the Free Stater had on his mind at this juncture. “It never ceases to amaze me that the Springbok selectors can have such blank spots in their thought processes,” he said.

Though every man out there on the South African terraces would agree with this sentiment – even those perpetually blinded by their provincial allegiances – there was little doubt that the Free Stater was building up to something. It wasn’t slow to arrive.

“Take Kwagga Smith for example,” he said. “Kwagga is not the biggest loose forward by any means. I checked up on him before the BaaBaas game. He’s listed as 1.80m and 90kg, which I think overstates his weight a little. “But he is a lot tougher than some of the Springboks paraded before as hard men and a lot more rugby-wise than a lot of the players who we are told can change a game. And, watching him, you have to seriously question this obsession we have with size.

“Now I’m not saying Kwagga can always change things around on his own. That’s why it’s called a team sport. But you do know – especially from his service for the Blitzboks and the Lions – that he’s never going to give you less than 200% effort every time he runs on. “Just look at the number of tackles he makes – and tackles where he knocks his man over. A big part of that is down to three things, anticipation through reading the game, his sheer speed about the field, and his complete lack of fear.

“You also have to look at the number of times that a player the selectors rate too small manages to rip the ball away from the opposition in the maul. He may not be Arnold Schwarzenegger, but Kwagga is immensely strong.

“For me, he is a player with definite X-factor as an impact player, the way Bobby Skinstad was. Very different players I agree, but I also can’t understand why the Boks don’t start every Test with Kwagga on the bench.”

He then paused for a moment. “It is also interesting that even on the losing side of a 31-22 scoreline, in an invitational line-up with little time to get combinations together, and against the All Blacks, Kwagga was judged Man-of-the-Match. “But perhaps the Barbarians selection panel know something that the Bok selectors have missed entirely.”

The interesting thing about that closing comment was that not a single member of the usual gathering – usually as perverse a collection of individuals as you could hope to muster – had no argument with it at all.