Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber has said he failed to protect number eight Kwagga Smith in the first test against the British and Irish Lions.
Smith was frequently targeted by the Lions from kick offs and was often knocked backwards by the onrushing opposition defenders shortly after gathering the ball.
The former sevens player is on the small side for a number eight, standing at 1.80m and weighing in at 95 kilos, and has been replaced by the significantly larger Jasper Wiese for the second test against the Lions (1.90m, 110 kilos).
Nienaber was speaking about his decision to drop Smith to the bench for this weekend’s encounter with the Lions at a press conference and acknowledged the difficult in replacing the injured Duane Vermeulen.
— Springboks (@Springboks) July 27, 2021
Jacques Nienaber on Springboks number eight Kwagga Smith.
“You don’t get the man of the match in a World Cup final without being the highest-quality player,” Nienaber said, via SA Rugby Mag.
“Duane is a top player, but so is Kwagga and I think tactically I wasn’t that sharp in terms of protecting him with the high balls. I should have done better there as a coach.
“We’ve spoken about it and we’ll definitely see how we can change a couple of things in terms of that. I may have hung him out to dry there.”
Jasper Wiese set to step up to the big time.
25-year-old Wiese will start at number eight for the Springboks against the Lions in the must-win test match this Saturday, in what will be only his second appearance for his country.
The powerful ball carrier won his first cap for South Africa against Georgia earlier this month, having replaced Smith after 60 minutes.
Starting against the Lions will be a much bigger ask than coming off the bench against Georgia, although Wiese has had a very good season with Leicester Tigers in England.
While the injured Duane Vermeulen hasn’t retired yet, at 35-years-old the Springbok legend will hang up his boots soon, and a big performance from Wiese could see him take pole position in the race to be South Africa’s long-term first-choice number eight.