He was nicknamed “Zebra” at birth, and Kwagga Smith has certainly been showing his stripes by staring for South Africa in two codes of rugby this year.
An intrinsic part of the South Africa sevens set-up for several years – he won a gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games – Smith enjoyed a breakout year in 15s rugby as he made the Super Rugby final with the Lions, who were beaten 25-17 by New Zealand’s Crusaders.
On top of that he was named man of the match for the Barbarians against New Zealand a few weeks ago and collected the Player of the Final award last night as South Africa swept to a 24-12 win at the Dubai Sevens, the opening leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
Zebra can seemingly do no wrong – and now he’s targeting a place in the Springboks 2019 Rugby World Cup squad.
“You must set your goals and my next goal is the Commonwealth Games and the Sevens World Cup,” Smith, 24, said after Saturday night’s triumph.
“After that I will do my best to get into the Springbok team for the 2019 World Cup in Japan. I’ll just try my best, work hard and give myself the best chance that I can give myself. And then we can look at others like another Olympics, if I’m blessed to play for so long.”
Smith, whose birth name is actually Albertus Stephanus Smith, told a touching tale in which he revealed he was actually given the name Kwagga – the Afrikans word for quagga, an extinct subspecies of plains zebra – by his older brother Willem on the night he was born.
Smith said: “I’ll tell you a story, it’s easier to understand. My brother Willem is two years older than me and we (family) farm in northern South Africa.
“The night I was born he was with my grandparents on the farm and they asked him ‘what’s your brother’s name?’, and obviously my brother is two-years-old, he grew up on the farm, he knew animal names, and he just said ‘Kwagga’ and it’s just stuck.”
Smith has certainly been a beast in his early career in rugby, switching seamlessly from sevens to 15s. And having shone against the All blacks in a 31-22 defeat at Twickenham on November 4, Smith is happy to be back with his sevens family for the 2017/18 World Series campaign.
He added: “Both give you satisfaction. For me it’s just an honour to play and earn the respect from the other players. It was awesome to meet new guys with the Barbarians, and it’s awesome to be back with my family and contribute while I’m here.”
And despite his flawless transition between the codes, Smith admits it’s been a lot of hard work on his part, as well as that of his coaches at both levels.
“It’s easy for me to come into a team like this and perform because the guys are so willing to work for you and it helps they make you feel so welcome,” he said.
“I’m lucky because I’ve been doing this for five/six years now, going to 15s and coming back in, the coaches have helped me and it’s awesome to be with the guys again.
“It’s definitely not been easy, coming from sevens to 15s and playing Super Rugby. I’ve had a few Currie Cup seasons but never played a full Super Rugby season, but it’s easy to go into a system where the team is doing well.
“I’ve performed there and there’s some good coaches, Johann Ackerman (former Lions coach) is a brilliant coach and had the trust in me and my abilities, and has given me the chance to prove myself.”
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