Kwagga Smith and Frans Steyn celebrate. Photo: Geoff Caddick/AFP

Kwagga Smith and Frans Steyn celebrate. Photo: Geoff Caddick/AFP

2021 RATINGS | Kwagga emerges as unlikely Bok hero

In our continued 2021 Springbok year review, we dish out ratings to stalwart Duane Vermeulen as well as dynamic flank Kwagga Smith.

Kwagga Smith and Frans Steyn celebrate. Photo: Geoff Caddick/AFP

Kwagga Smith and Frans Steyn celebrate. Photo: Geoff Caddick/AFP

As we continue to look back on 2021, it was Kwagga Smith who stood tall as one of the most important Springbok performers, particularly in the absence of Duane Vermeulen, who suffered a serious injury at the start of the season.


Boks’ stalwart Duane Vermeulen (6)

It’s been a challenging year for the 35-year-old, who missed out on the British & Irish Lions tour due to a serious ankle he suffered on the eve of the series.

Vermeulen described it as one of his rugby “bucket list” items that he wasn’t able to mark off as complete, but it does appear to have fuelled his desire to now push through to the 2023 World Cup.

The veteran No 8 eventually recovered to play all four of the Springboks’ games in Australia, which included back-to-back Tests against the Wallabies and All Blacks.

It did appear that Vermeulen required regular game time to build back to his best form and fitness, with the highlight of his year undoubtedly the game-defining penalty that he won at the breakdown in the final Rugby Championship Test against New Zealand.

Vermeulen started all three games on the end-of-year tour, producing a solid all-round showing – albeit without stealing any headlines – and there is no doubt he will remain integral to the Bok cause as the 2023 World Cup approaches.


Energizer bunny Kwagga (7)

This was a defining year on the Test stage for Kwagga Smith, who featured in all 13 Tests in 2021.

After playing a relatively bit-part role with the Boks in 2018 and 2019, this season saw the national coaches place full trust in the dynamic capabilities of the versatile former Blitzboks star.

Smith started the first Test against the British & Irish Lions at No 8, but it was his switch to blindside flank that was particularly encouraging in the second half of the season.

Often perceived to not have the size and physicality for such a role at No 7, Smith proved the doubters wrong with a sequence of high-energy performances that showcased his unique skill set.

He was never going to provide the physical presence and power of injured Pieter-Steph du Toit, but he was dynamic on defence and at the breakdown, while his work rate always set him apart.

Smith may well revert to an impact role with the Bomb Squad once Du Toit is back to full fitness, but this was a season-defining year for the 28-year-old, who has emphatically proven he can make a success of his switch to fifteens at Test level.