Kwagga ready for 'real challenge'
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP SPOTLIGHT: Albertus Smith is used to scrapping with the ‘bruisers’ on the Sevens circuit. Now he hopes to leave his mark on the game’s ‘real’ stage – the 15-man code.
The 26-year-old, a stalwart on the Sevens circuit for more than four years, made 158 appearances and scored 62 tries for the BlitzBoks.
And he has had a couple of ‘nibbles’ at on the international stage of the premium version of the game – for the Springbok fringe players against Wales in Washington last June and for the Barbarians against the All Blacks in a non-cap encounter in November 2017.
However, in Wellington on Saturday Smith will experience his first taste of Test rugby – when he runs out for South Africa against New Zealand in a Rugby Championship crunch match.
Smith, affectionately known as Kwagga, admitted his first encounter with the All Blacks was ‘stress-free’, us the Barbarians’ focus is always on the “fun factor”.
“It is much more of an honour to play for the Springboks against New Zealand,” he said in the build-up to the Wellington showdown.
“They [the All Blacks] are the standard you measure yourself by,” he added.
After a standout season for the struggling Lions in Super Rugby, Smith earned himself a recall to the Springbok squad.
And with captain Siyamthanda Kolisi out with a knee injury, the tenacious flank has been entrusted with the vacant No.6 jersey against the All Blacks.
“I don’t think I can describe my excitement for the weekend’s Test here in Wellington,” Smith said.
“I’ve played against the All Blacks in the colours of the Barbarians, but that was a different game and a very different week leading up to that math.
“For the Barbarians, you would have a fun week and really just one training session on Thursday or so.
“That is very different compared to the build-up to a Test match between South Africa and New Zealand, especially for this match in Wellington.”
Smith and his Springbok colleagues are all too aware of New Zealand’s desire to rectify matters in front of their own demanding fans, after last year’s epic South African victory.
On Saturday he will be part of a new-look loose trio which consists of new Springbok captain Duane Vermeulen (No.8) and the current SA Rugby Player of the Year, Pieter-Steph du Toit (flank).
“Duane is an awesome player and I have looked up to him since I was a schoolboy player,” Smith said.
“It is a real honour for me to play with him, while Pieter-Steph is also a really good and hard-working player.
“However, I have an important job to do and I will give it my best shot on Saturday against the world’s best team.”
Bok coach Rassie Erasmus said Smith’s relatively small stature is not an issue.
“Kwagga is not one of the biggest guys, but if you take people like Sam Cane and those kinds of players, he matches them size-wise,” Erasmus said.
“He has a big engine on him, a big heart and he is a great team man.”