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Kwagga Smith and three other South Africa vs Ireland talking points

By Liam Heagney
Kwagga Smith of South Africa is tackled by Ireland's Craig Casey off the beck of a scrum in Pretoria (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

We got fireworks in Pretoria on Saturday but not in the anticipated way. The script was that these two teams would go at it hammer and tongs from the first whistle but it took quite a while to boil over once you leave aside the third-minute sweep that ended with Kurt-Lee Arendse opening the scoring.


Despite knocking around at altitude for over a week, Ireland were flat for far too long a stretch on the Highveld while South Africa were imprecise in a good chunk of what they tried to do, showing signs of a team playing its first match in nine months and with a raft of new assistant coaches involved.

That lack of finesse left the contest stuck in a 13-8 rut to the Springboks from the 35th to the 65th minute – the same final score that was inked in Paris last September at the Rugby World Cup but with Ireland winning – and it needed an exquisite piece of opportunism from Cheslin Kolbe to shatter the stalemate courtesy of James Lowe’s costly touchline acrobatics.

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We then got a breathless finish. Three tries, two yellow cards, one a penalty try – a spectacular late-game flourish that a suffocating arm wrestle-dominated contest didn’t really deserve.

That was the over-riding feeling leaving Loftus Versfeld for a night-time spin down the motorway to Johannesburg; that a fixture that generated so much hype in the recent weeks and months didn’t ignite in the first half and deliver a top, top quality Test match.


Ball Carries
Post Contact Metres
Line Breaks

The hope will be that the exchanges are of a far higher calibre at sea level in Durban next Saturday. In the meantime, here are the RugbyPass talking points following the 27-20 win for South Africa in Pretoria:

Diplomatic Rassie, Irish fume
How times change. Rassie Erasmus, the bete noire of rugby officialdom for a couple of years, sounds like he is being well tutored by Jaco Peyper, the retired referee who is now on the Springboks management ticket. Asked about the TMO decisions that affected Ireland and enhanced South Africa, he suggested that the tourists should perhaps just suck it up. “I certainly have learned from the past, let it be. Yes, that’s a protocol, that’s how it works,” he said.


Ireland will go through the channels to get some feedback for the decisions that were reached but Farrell couldn’t resist stoking the flames with a barbed aside before that procedure. “It’s not for me to say but I saw quite a few of them live and they had a dubious thought about it but anyway, that’s life.”

It’s not for RugbyPass to say either way what the calls should have been but the Ronan Kelleher one, which resulted in the cancellation of the breakaway James Lowe try, was akin to the which came first debate, the chicken or the egg.

The sub hooker was eventually penalised for being off-feet when playing the ball back on the Ireland side with his leg but was a debate needed over whether the reason he went off-feet in the first place was that he got neck-rolled at the breakdown?

Whatever the answer, the bottom line for Ireland was that the TMO didn’t lose them this game. They simply stank in the first half – as Farrell admitted, “We were off” – and that 13-3 gap was too much of a margin to fully reel in. It makes it two defeats in three for the Irish and the in-between in over Scotland was a zero-highlights affair even though it clinched them a Six Nations title.


It suggests these are very interesting times in this post-World Cup era for Farrell and co as they need to see signs of evolution before he heads off at the end of the year on his British and Irish Lions sabbatical. How they change it up and attack the game better next weekend will be intriguing.

Bear in mind they have successfully responded to this type of adversity before, hitting back two years ago in game two versus New Zealand after losing game one. However, that was with a half-back partnership of the now-retired Johnny Sexton and the unavailable Jamison Gibson-Park.

While Jack Crowley is slowly but surely making his way in filling in for Sexton, Ireland badly missed the trademark Gibson-Park energy in the first half in Pretoria and will likely have Conor Murray starting in Durban with Craig Casey left in a bad way with his second-half head injury.

Coming of age at 31
Pieter-Steph du Toit will always be a standout player in the Springboks back row, but is the unsung Kwagga Smith about to come of age in the team as a recently-turned 31-year-old? The former sevens circuit specialist, who made a Test debut in 2018, had 40 caps coming into this new-season era with Erasmus back in charge but he hadn’t started all that much.

For instance, there was just one start in six appearances at the 2023 Rugby World Cup, two at the 2019 World Cup, and his busiest-ever Rugby Championship was 2021 when he started in three of his six appearances.

Now, though, he is after starting at both No6 and No8 in recent weeks and while he wasn’t as prominent versus Wales at Twickenham on June 22 with ‘just’ 10 carries, he was a vital presence against the Irish with his direct play.

His total of 17 carries was no mean feat, being six more than the next-best Springbok (Willie le Roux on 11) and eight more than the next-best forward (du Toit on nine). Now there were three turnovers lost in what he did, but away from the carrying he won one turnover and also got in seven tackles.

Duane Vermeulen’s retirement has left Erasmus with a big role to fill and Smith has certainly shown he has the skill to flourish. What was absorbing was that his directness across the 80 minutes allowed the Springboks to toy with having Kolisi and du Toit out wide in a tactic that wasn’t previously used which was great given that Ireland’s best player on the night was their No8 Caelan Doris.

Having flankers run down the wide channels is a fascinating development for the Boks. Du Toit on the ball was no unusual sight; his ball-carrying had always been top-drawer, but Kolisi on the ball was a rare sight and he enjoyed himself at Loftus.

“Getting the ball in my hands, I really enjoyed that today,” he said as the dust settled. “We are still learning what coach Tony (Brown) wants us to do and it is only going to get better.”

‘Borne identity
The slick way Arendse finished his try ignited fears that the debut-making Jamie Osborne could be in for a horrid maiden appearance in place of the Olympic Sevens-bund Hugo Keenan. It wasn’t his off-balance reaction per se that most cost Ireland in that situation.

Calvin Nash reacted too slowly in this instance and in general across the evening, Ireland collectively didn’t counter the Springboks repeatedly attacking with Kolisi and du Toit in the wide channels. Osborne, though, bounced back superbly, exhibiting confidence in the air while the dexterity witnessed in his try finish was wonderful. He ultimately only played 51 minutes but he won’t be a one-cap wonder, that is for sure.

About Kolisi and du Toit handling more visibly, Erasmus admitted it was a sign that he is trying to expand the foundation laid by the departed assistant Felix Jones and yet, as exciting as this was, the most rousing Springbok pack moment was when Erasmus hooked six of the starting eight forwards in one fell swoop on 50 minutes. An electricity raced through the crowd seeing this happening.

They endured a watery start, Ireland winning a scrum penalty when the match restarted. However, the power of this reconfigured Bok pack in the scrum later harvested a penalty try and a yellow card. That was a sharp reminder that scrummaging is what South Africa do best.

Boozy question
If there was the common denominator between the Springboks at Loftus and Ireland at Aviva it was the staggering amount of booze that fans put away in the lead-up to the 5pm local time kick-off. Now, the atmosphere that unfolded during the rugby was memorable but some fans would have woken up Sunday morning with little or no recollection as to what might have happened during the match.

It is a very rugby thing, boozy walks in the stands while play is unfolding, but the regular sight of people having to momentarily take their eyes off the match to stand up and allow a beer-carrying punter to bring the latest round to his seat would surely have made the match day experience of those who wanted to see all of the game uninterrupted a loveless impossibility.

This isn’t a dig at South African fans attending the ironically named Castle Lager series. The match day experience in Dublin, where the spring-time matches take place in a Guinness-sponsored tournament, also leave a lot to be desired for the very same up-down booze reason.

Finding a happier match day going medium than what is currently the case isn’t easy given the heavy revenue it generates for those unions staging the matches, but this constant up and down for fans who only want to see the match doesn’t seem fair in a sport that ultimately wants to attract new spectators and grow.


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rory 14 days ago

As a Bok supporter I totally agree with your take on the booze at rugby matches. It makes for boorish behaviour and sends a message to the international stage that rugby is all about how much alcohol you could consume. Some of the Book supporters are an embarrassment when they scream “Bokke” into the mike holding up a. Can of beer or brandy and coke.
I say this as someone from a rugby family with Springboks, provincial, club ancestry not just some armchair critic.

From a rugby point of view I would like to see Roos, and perhaps Later Hanekom come in at No 8. Furthermore, one will watch the new style the Boks are developing with interest.
The match itself failed to live up to its expectations. Too many mistakes from both sides.
Second test will be tighter and possibly a low scoring match.
One is impressed with the Irish grit.
Trust supporters will treat each other with respect

NeilB_Denver 15 days ago

Honest question, is Rassie rebuilding as the fans would expect? Seems a lot of the Bok double WC winners are in their 30s now. Does he expect to carry the core of the team through to the next WC cycle?

Bruiser 15 days ago

We wont have to wait long for the next Spassie outburst…a leopard….

Johann 15 days ago

Bro don't come to Kings Park next week. They braai before, during and after the game. Lots of people walking around and smoke, noise and generally it has a very live rugby feel. That's typically why I watch at home. Live sport has other people that bother me too.

Barry 15 days ago

Harsh on Lowe. Had a legit try chalked off. Gave the scoring pass for two other tries, both of them offloads in the tackle and both beauties.

His team mates didn't cover back for him for the 2nd bok try when he kept the ball alive.

Flankly 15 days ago

“the most rousing Springbok pack moment was when Erasmus hooked six of the starting eight forwards”

Another contender might be the Irish pack on roller skates that gave away the penalty try.

jacques 15 days ago

How the wheel have turned. 6 Years ago all my fellow South African supporters would have been up in arms about how the rugby world and just the world in general were against them if the roles were reversed on Saturday.
We would be waiting for Rassie to release his video. Now that most of the calls go for us we don’t care. Rassie could not stop complaining when calls went against us and now he could not care less. SA supporters are like the ANC, they complain about looting unless they can partake in it, go figure.

Jon 15 days ago

Lowe had a night to forget Liam? He was one few shining lights and bright spots in peoples hopes I would have thought. Do you mean Lowe would rather forget the game?

This also isn’t the forum for you to complain about your set at the rugby.

I don’t see Kwagga holding his spot, I think Roos will be given the jersey to provide more oomph.

MitchO 15 days ago

In Japan they have people walking around with kegs of beer as a backpack. Only need to leave your seat to go to the loo. They even have people walking around with hot tea and edible food. Very civilised

John 15 days ago

Why is Kwagga so weak under the high ball?

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