Johannesburg - The whole of New Zealand may have already written off the Lions’ chances of making this year’s Super Rugby final, but they may well change their mind if they listen to Lions flanker Kwagga Smith.
While the Lions are sure to face their moment of truth against the defending champion Hurricanes at Ellis Park this weekend, Smith was one of the few in the side that missed both defeats last season, including the 50 pointer at the same venue.
But Smith is one of the key differences in the team, a 100-mile an hour flank who doesn’t give up easily, and who has already gathered no less than five man-of-the-match awards in the season as the Lions have moved forward.
The quiet spoken former Springbok Sevens star knows about being written off and believes the Lions are up to the challenge, despite doubts in some quarters of them being able to take a step up in terms of intensity this weekend.
“It’s one of the games in the season that counts," Smith told the SuperSport website. "You only have one chance and you have to give it your all, otherwise you might be disappointed afterwards and it will be too late to rectify it."
And what about the fact that they haven’t faced a Kiwi team in 2017? Does that incite fear in any way in the team. Not according to Smith, who believes that the challenge will bring out the best in the Lions.
“It is a huge challenge to face a New Zealand team but that will also bring out the best in us as a team, you know when you play against a great team you also perform great. For us to perform against them and for them to come to us on our home turf - they are used to cold and wet weather at this moment, it will be great for us to play in the sunshine at 14:30.
“It is always a great challenge but that is where you want to measure yourself.
“It might be difficult to play against them, but we play like a New Zealand team anyway. If we stick to our structures we can see what the intensity can bring, it can be quite high but I believe that can suit us a lot as well because of the way we play."
After the scare they had against the Sharks last weekend, Smith said the team have already put the performance behind them and know exactly where they went wrong. They don’t expect the performance to repeat itself this weekend.
“We got back and we worked hard to be better than we were. We couldn’t finish the opportunities that we had and we had a lot of them. I had an off day but that happens to any of the best players. For us we put that behind us already on Monday and started working hard again because we know it wasn’t too our standard, although there were opportunities, we should have finished them.”
One of the challenges Smith is relishing is coming up against All Black Ardie Savea and Brad Shields, both key members of the Hurricanes side this season.
“I enjoy playing against them. I’ve played against Ardie a few times in the Sevens and at SA under-20 level as well, and played with Brad Shields in the Barbarians team. It's great for me to play against them, and those are the loose forwards that you want to measure yourself against. They’ve also proven to the world that you don’t have to be the biggest guys, because they aren’t but they perform brilliantly.”
Either way, Smith may not be a man of many words, but he is a determined one, and given the stakes on Saturday they Lions will know exactly what to expect.
If they want to be Super Rugby champions, a good place to start is to beat the current defending champions.