Jacques van der Westhuyzen
Head of Sport
2 minute read
1 Jul 2021
8:12 am

Why former Lions boss backs Kwagga to wear Bok No 8 jersey

Jacques van der Westhuyzen

"He’s a natural footballer and will be fine,” said Johan Ackermann about the former Sevens player getting the nod at eighthman.

Kwagga Smith has been backed to play at No 8 in the Springboks' Test against Georgia on Friday. Picture: Juan Jose Gasparini/Gallo Images

While the Springboks will miss Duane Vermeulen, they will be just fine with Kwagga Smith at No 8.

That is the assessment of former Lions coach Johan Ackermann, who had no issues picking Smith at eighthman when Warren Whiteley was injured during his time in charge of the Joburg-based team.

Smith was a somewhat surprise selection at eighthman when Springbok boss Jacques Nienaber announced his first team on Tuesday since taking charge of the Boks.

Smith will be joined in the loose-trio by Pieter-Steph du Toit and captain Siya Kolisi when the Boks return to Test action for the first time since winning the World Cup in November 2019 when they tackle Georgia at Loftus Versfeld on Friday.

“I’ve no problem with Kwagga playing at eight; he’s a natural footballer and will be fine,” said Ackermann, who now coaches in Japan.

“He occasionally played eight at the Lions and did very well. He’s a good rugby player who can slot in anywhere.

“He’s got the skills to give the ball to the nine, but also to pick the ball up and have a go from the base.”

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Smith, who made his name with the Blitzboks, has played most of his 15-man rugby as an openside flank, and his move to the back of the scrum for this Friday’s match could see a change in the Boks’ approach.

Bok teams have generally preferred big ball-carrying No 8s, like Vermeulen, but Ackermann said there were other players in the team to do the carrying.

“The Boks will miss Duane, for sure. He brings weight at the scrum and he’s excellent falling back in defence, under the high ball, and he’s pretty good at the breakdown as well,” said Ackermann.

“But Kwagga has other skills, like his speed and linking play, and he’s strong for a smaller player. He must just play his natural game and not try and be like Duane; they are different, with different skill sets.

“Kwagga can break tackles, he hits and spins very well, and I remember at the Lions he was often our best attacker. He brings a different dynamic to the game.”

Ackermann said the Boks had enough enforcers in the pack for Smith not to be used in that role. There’s Du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Bongi Mbonambi, Trevor Nyakane, Ox Nche, Franco Mostert and captain Kolisi.

“And, there are also enough guys there to do the jumping in the lineouts, but remember Kwagga has also done that job before at the Lions,” said Ackermann.

Smith has played just six Tests for the Boks (and is also a World Cup winner) but ran out 49 times for the Lions in Super Rugby between 2015 and 2019. He currently plays for Yamaha Jubilo in Japan.