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Smith’s elevation to the Boks start reward for a player who doesn’t know when to stop

Kwagga Smith of the Emirates Lions on the attack during the Super Rugby Semifinal match between Lions and Hurricanes at the Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg on 29 July 2017.
Kwagga Smith of the Emirates Lions on the attack during the Super Rugby Semifinal match between Lions and Hurricanes at the Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg on 29 July 2017.
Image: Christiaan Kotze/BackpagePix

Kwagga Smith’s elevation to the Springboks’ starting team for Saturday’s Test against the All Blacks in Wellington comes as due reward for a player who just doesn’t know when to stop.

Smith‚ respected and revered for his ability to run and keep on going‚ is cast as an almost Forrest Gump-like figure in the domestic game.

Smith‚ fiercely loyal and uncomplicated‚ plays the moment for what it appears to be and on the odd occasion he is prone to calamity.

The red card he received in the 2017 Super Rugby final against the Crusaders at Ellis Park put paid to the Lions' best chance of winning their maiden title.

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Smith contested the high ball with Crusaders fullback David Havili in the 38th minute of that game and the latter landed awkwardly‚ which drew the sharpest sanction from referee Jaco Peyper.

Despite continuing to excel in the Lions’ frenetic attack last year‚ it was stridently argued that Smith does not complete as many tackles as he ought to.

His detractors reminded that getting into position to make tackles is one thing‚ execution is another.

In last year’s Super Rugby he had the fourth highest missed tackle count in the competition.

His name featured among players who are ordinarily stationed at first and second receiver‚ with‚ among others‚ Bernard Foley‚ Kurtley Beale and Elton Jantjies.

This season Smith held on and made his first-time hits count.

His 18 missed tackles in the campaign helped place him joint 74th on the list. That represents a dramatic improvement in any one’s book.

What is often overlooked is Smith’s impact as the arriving player in the tackle.

And because of Malcolm Marx’s effectiveness in that area for the Lions‚ the loose forward’s impact often goes unnoticed.

Smith‚ however‚ can no longer be labelled as a player who simply pops up in the wide channels and runs the defence ragged with wonderfully intuitive support play.

He is an absolute freak when it comes to that but it has also been pointed out ad nauseam that in the tighter confines of Test rugby‚ that skill would be blunted.

The point is he can be devastating when unleashed close to the touchline and if last year’s corresponding fixture is anything to go by‚ Smith may prove a very handy operator out wide.

Smith’s only Test was in the defeat to Wales in Washington last year when Robert du Preez fluffed his lines inside the Bok in goal area that cost the South Africans the game in the dying minutes.

Since then Smith has had to watch from a distance as the Boks took significant strides forward under Erasmus.

Injury to captain Siya Kolisi has now helped open the door and Smith can come in from the cold.

“He's only played one match for us since I've been with the Boks and it was that weird game against Wales in Washington‚” Erasmus reminded on Wednesday.

“I haven't always had the chance to coach him into a proper Test match week and we had to split our resources for that Wales game.

"It was tough to coach him‚” Erasmus said.

“We've had two weeks to coach him now and overall‚ he's energetic‚ opportunistic and I think he's a ball player.

"He's a guy with a big engine on him.

"He's not one of the biggest guys but if you are a player like Sam Cane‚ he matches them size-wise.

"But he's got a big heart and a great team man.”

Smith may be a starter this weekend but his continued role in the team may be as a high impact operator off the bench once Kolisi returns from injury.

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