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Why Nienaber is convinced picking Smith for Vermeulen isn't risky

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by MB Media/Getty Images)

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Jacques Nienaber would have you believe that it is no big deal picking Kwagga Smith as the Springboks No8 to face the Lions next Saturday in Cape Town in place of the injured Duane Vermeulen, who damaged his ankle in a June Rainbow Cup match and hasn’t been able to make a Lazarus-like return similar to Alun Wyn Jones, the Lions skipper who had a shoulder dislocation on June 26.


The talk this past month had been about the uncapped Jasper Wiese and the rich “knocking down the door” form he had shown this past year Leicester. However, rather than go with a player who packed down at No8 in the midweek win for South Africa A last week over the Lions, Nienaber has gone with Smith who featured in that position for the first time in the early July win over Georgia. 

The inclusion of Smith, a 28-year-old with seven caps who stands at 180cms and weighs 95kgs, certainly isn’t a like-for-like swap for Vermeulen, the 35-year-old with 54 caps who is 193cms and 117kgs. There is a seven-year age gap, a 13cm difference in height, a 22kg difference in weight and 47 caps of a difference in experience.  

Video Spacer

Jacques Nienaber on his first Test front row selection
Video Spacer
Jacques Nienaber on his first Test front row selection

And yet Springboks boss Nienaber has every confidence that Smith won’t be found wanting coming into the jersey for Vermeulen, the man of the match at the 2019 World Cup final. “Duane is a guy that can get and stop momentum. He is a big boy, a heavy guy, and he gets and stops momentum in a specific way but a guy like Kwagga does exactly the same for us but just maybe a little bit different,” insisted the new head coach.  

“Kwagga comes from a sevens background, probably gets momentum with his evasion, with his evasive skillset which he learned in sevens where they have to handle big players, Fijian players. He has had to develop that skill set over the years.

“People will look at it and go, ‘How can you say that?’ But it gives us the same. There is a different style in a different way. If you think about Duane defensively, he is a good reader of the game, he has got a good poaching ability to slow down the ball and Kwagga possesses the same skillset, just a little bit different. It is a little bit of a different look than we normally have in the back row but we were comfortable with Kwagga. 


“He filled that role for us in the World Cup as well and I’m looking forward to seeing him play there. In 2019 when we played away to New Zealand, Kwagga was also in that team, partnered up with Duane. Siya (Kolisi) was injured at that stage. That is the nice thing about Kwagga – he covers us at six, seven and eight.”


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