Rugby Championship

Nienaber explains eye-catching Kwagga pick for All Blacks: 'We have faith in him'

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Kwagga Smith. (Photo by MB Media/Getty Images)
Kwagga Smith. (Photo by MB Media/Getty Images)
  • Kwagga Smith's selection as the Springboks' designated blindsider for the weekend's clash against the All Blacks has been met with surprise.
  • But the compact former Blitzbok has the trust of team management, who have placed a premium on his versatility and provides "balance" to the loose trio and whole pack.
  • Head coach Jacques Nienaber also acknowledged the need for the Boks to grant Franco Mostert a breather.

Unsurprisingly given his size, Kwagga Smith's selection as the Springboks' designated blindside flanker in Saturday's historic meeting with the All Blacks has been met with its fair share of raised eyebrows.

The compact former Lions and Blitzboks star - at 1.80m and 95kg - isn't exactly the prototype No 7 in a Green-and-Gold jersey and is between 15 and 20kg lighter than his team-mates in the position.

However, similarly to when he was enlisted to play at eighthman in the first Test against the British & Irish Lions, national head coach Jacques Nienaber touted Smith's versatility as a key factor.

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"Kwagga has brought nice energy every time he's come on in our recent outings," the Bok mentor said on Tuesday after announcing a settled combination for the weekend's 100th Test against the old enemy.

"He’s a versatile guy and we trust him. He’s been part of us for a while and is very familiar with our system and what's expected of him."

A premium has clearly been placed on Smith's reputation as a player who generally plays towards the ball more, a useful trait against opposition who operate at a relentlessly high tempo throughout every outing.

But there's also the issue of balance.

"It’s about weighing up the balance of your team. In fact, one can narrow it down to the loose trio, even the whole pack," said Nienaber.

"(Smith's selection) is about balancing your number of ball-carriers versus the guys that can cover width and distance for you, the guys that can really scramble for you.

"When you consider the make-up of our team, we have Bongi (Mbonambi), Malcolm (Marx), Steven (Kitshoff), Trevor (Nyakane), Lood (de Jager), Eben (Etzebeth), Siya (Kolisi) and Duane (Vermeulen) who can fulfil the roles of ball-carriers for us.

"In a different way, Kwagga too can (be considered in that category) with his evasion and timing on his carries. He’s a previous sevens player, so he has a varied skill-set.

"You don’t want too much of the one (ball-carrying) and too little (playing towards the ball and poaching) in the other department."

Nienaber also quelled supporters and observers' temptation to possibly over-analysing the selection by also admitting it's a move that simply helps manage Franco Mostert's workload.

"Franco's been a stalwart for us, he initially played lock for us and then deputised for Pieter-Steph (du Toit) after he was injured. He's produced 80 minutes after 80 minutes and 80 minutes and still even moved back to the second row during matches," he said.

"It's purely to give him a bit of a breather."


All Blacks



15 Willie le Roux, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Trevor Nyakane

Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn

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