Cape Town – There are 17 uncapped players in Rassie Erasmus’ first Springbok squad of 2018, and one of those is Sevens superstar and Lions loose forward Kwagga Smith.
Erasmus has been forced into naming an extended squad due to the unusual nature of his first assignment.
The Boks, the weekend after Super Rugby has been momentarily paused (for the SA Conference at least), are in Washington DC on Saturday for a Test against Wales that was designed to be a money maker for SA Rugby and the Welsh Rugby Union.
Last we heard, ticket sales for the exhibition were not going as well as hoped, but the match goes ahead, and Erasmus must field a side capable of getting the Boks off to a winning start under his leadership.
While there will be some overlap, Erasmus is expected to effectively field two completely different teams for the Wales game and then the first of three England Tests in Johannesburg on June 9.
Despite being top of the South African Conference in Super Rugby this year, there are only five Lions in Erasmus’ squad.
There has never been any doubting Smith’s natural ability, but the transition from sevens to XVs is not an easy one and he had to work harder than ever to adjust.
This year, though, he has come into his own as a loose forward and his flexibility has allowed him to be used at both flank and No 8.
Smith is fast, he has am engine that allows to deliver an often unrivalled work-rate, he is strong defensively and, most importantly, he is improving all the time in his ability to legally challenge for the ball on the ground.
It is not clear yet how Erasmus will use Smith in June, but the most important thing for him is that he has been given his opportunity.
“What we did with him was believe in his position-specific skills, which are very good,” Lions coach Swys de Bruin explained after his side’s Super Rugby win over the Stormers at Newlands on Saturday.
“Sevens is a different game and you can see with (Seabelo) Senatla and the guys as well. The paces are totally different so it took a while.
“Kwagga is special … I’m glad for him.”
Lions captain Franco Mostert, who is also in the Bok squad, has a lot of faith in Smith as both a player and a leader.
“He brings so much positivity. He doesn’t talk a lot, but it shows in his actions,” said Mostert.
“If you want to follow a guy then that’s they guy you have to follow because he just gives 110% in every game. For me, he is the best six (in the country). He’s a good friend of mine and a great rugby player.”
Smith’s competition for the No 6 jersey comes in the form of Stormers trio Siya Kolisi, Nizaam Carr and Sikhumbuzo Notshe, with Kolisi the likely candidate for the starting berth.
The Springbok squad for the June internationals (in order of name, position, franchise, Test caps, points):
Nizaam Carr (loose forward, Stormers, 5, 0)
Bismarck du Plessis (hooker, Montpellier, France, 79, 55 – 11t)
Dan du Preez (loose forward, Sharks, 3, 0)
Jean-Luc du Preez (loose forward, Sharks, 10, 10 – 2t)
Pieter-Steph du Toit (lock, Stormers, 32, 20 – 4t)
Thomas du Toit (prop, Sharks, uncapped)
Jason Jenkins (lock, Bulls, uncapped)
Steven Kitshoff (prop, Stormers, 23, 5 – 1t)
Siya Kolisi (loose forward, Stormers, 28, 20 – 4t)
Wilco Louw (prop, Stormers, 5, 0)
Frans Malherbe (prop, Stormers, 17, 0)
Bongi Mbonambi (hooker, Stormers, 14, 5 – 1t)
Oupa Mohojé (loose forward, Cheetahs 18, 0)
Franco Mostert (lock, Lions, 18, 5 – 1t)
Tendai Mtawarira (prop, Sharks, 98, 10 – 2t)
Ox Nche (prop, Cheetahs, uncapped)
Sikhumbuzo Notshe (loose forward, Stormers, uncapped)
Trevor Nyakane (prop, Bulls, 37, 5 – 1t)
Marvin Orie (lock, Lions, uncapped)
Chiliboy Ralepelle (hooker, Sharks 23, 5 – 1t)
Kwagga Smith (loose forward, Lions, uncapped)
RG Snyman (lock, Bulls, uncapped)
Akker van der Merwe (hooker, Sharks, uncapped)
Duane Vermeulen (loose forward, Toulon, France, 39, 10 – 2t)
Lukhanyo Am (centre, Sharks, 1, 0)
Curwin Bosch (utility back Sharks, 1, 0)
Damian de Allende (centre, Stormers, 28, 15 – 3t)
Faf de Klerk (scrumhalf, Sale Sharks, England, 11, 0)
Robert du Preez (flyhalf, Sharks, uncapped)
Aphiwe Dyantyi (wing, Lions, uncapped)
André Esterhuizen (centre, Sharks, uncapped)
Warrick Gelant (fullback, Bulls, 2, 5 – 1t)
Travis Ismaiel (wing, Bulls, uncapped)
Elton Jantjies (flyhalf, Lions, 23, 203 – 2t, 38c, 39p)
Jesse Kriel (centre, Bulls, 29, 40 – 8t)
Willie le Roux (fullback, Wasps, England, 41, 50 – 10t)
Makazole Mapimpi (wing, Sharks, uncapped)
Sibusiso Nkosi (wing, Sharks, uncapped)
Embrose Papier (scrumhalf, Bulls, uncapped)
Handré Pollard (flyhalf, Bulls, 26, 218 – 3t, 37c, 40p, 3d)
Frans Steyn (utility back, Montpellier, France, 56, 132 – 10t, 5c, 21p, 3d)
Ivan van Zyl (scrumhalf, Bulls, uncapped)
Cameron Wright (scrumhalf, Sharks, uncapped)