Cape Town – The
significance of Kwagga Smith’s selection for South Africa in the Test match
against Wales in Washington DC on Saturday may have got a little lost in the understandably
more widespread analysis of Rassie Erasmus’s first Springbok team.

But if the
Lions tearaway and former SA Sevens ace manages to be highly influential as
open-side flank on his debut – along with six others – it may trigger thoughts
in the new head coach’s mind, if they don’t exist already, that a genuine
“fetcher” should become a more regular part of his plans.

The Boks
haven’t consistently deployed an out-and-out, low-centre-of-gravity whippet in
their No 6 jersey, really, since the sadly curtailed heyday of Heinrich
Brussow.

That period
is in the pretty distant annals, now, too.

Although the
former Cheetahs favourite, 31 and on the books these days of Northampton Saints
in the English Premiership, had a brief, three-match return to favour toward
the end of Heyneke Meyer’s tenure in charge of the national team, he is best
remembered for his deeper contribution to a phase under the earlier charge of
Peter de Villiers.

His 23-cap
Bok career included, most notably, a massive personal role in South Africa’s
last triumphant Tri-Nations (now Rugby Championship) campaign in 2009, when
great rivals the All Blacks were beaten three times in a row on the way to the
title.

The New
Zealanders found Brussow an absolute pest over the ball at breakdowns, unable
for the most part to arrest his dominance – and that at a time when the All
Black captain was an even more legendary figure in open-side play, Richie
McCaw.

But with
injuries hardly helping his cause, Brussow gradually slipped down the Bok
pecking order in the position.

Meyer tended
to favour larger, more abrasive specimens to fulfil the pilfering task, so men
like Schalk Burger, Marcell Coetzee and Francois Louw were more customarily
assigned to the fetching role, doubling as strong ball carriers at close
quarters and forceful, industrial “cleaners” into the bargain.

There is a
fairly widespread school of thought, to the present, that most pack members
need to be potentially proficient at stealing the ball on the deck, rendering
the role of the more old-fashioned, highly mobile specialist just a tad
obsolete.

For example,
many hookers have increasingly developed into significant menaces on the deck –
Malcolm Marx and recently-recalled veteran Bismarck du Plessis cases in point –
and backlines also contain certain, wily “theft” opportunists.

One from
that department who may imminently enjoy a first start for the Boks (in the
home series against England) is Sharks outside centre Lukhanyo Am, among whose
qualities is a pluckiness and excellent reach over the ball when it is on the
deck.

Nevertheless,
several better international outfits still prefer a more traditional, speedy
open-sider in their mix … including the world champion New Zealanders, in the
form of Sam Cane (and Ardie Savea) and Australia, who sometimes field two at
once – one at No 8 – in the form of David Pocock and Michael Hooper.

So debate
will continue to rage about exactly what type of No 6 (No 7 to most of the rest
of the world) is ultimately the best to have.

At least for
the time being, it seems that Erasmus will keep faith in Siya Kolisi, not the
smallest or swiftest of open-siders, in that particular role, especially as he
has named him captain for the full series against the English.

But the
popular Stormers figure can also be deployed at blind-side, even if he is not
as physically gargantuan as some specimens who perform that function and has
tended to play his best Bok Tests as a six.

He is
probably best contemplated as a blind-sider only if the Boks are intending to
compensate in the bulk department at loose forward by fielding a brawny No 8
like stalwart Duane Vermeulen or Sharks youngster Dan du Preez.

At least for
the moment, though, it will be a surprise if Kolisi is shifted away from the
open side.

That said, if
Smith were to have a terrific debut in Washington on Saturday, the Bok brains
trust may simultaneously just begin to tweak their own thoughts about how to
best assemble and balance their loose trio, going forward.

The Lions
dynamo is not the finished article as a No 6 yet, by any means, as he is still
getting to grips with regular duty back at “fifteens” rugby after his years of
major diversion as a Sevens force.

He
occasionally gets a little lost in games for the Lions when the tempo and style
of a game doesn’t hugely suit him, but there is also no doubt that when he is
able to be influential, he can be strikingly imperious.

Smith sports
exactly the same, limited height as Brussow (1.80m), and is a few kilograms
lighter at a modest 90kg, although he puts himself about as if someone
considerably beefier.

What’s
exciting about him is that his mobility and linking skills and relish are
largely beyond doubt, making him a very useful source of X-factor from the
forward ranks in attacking raids, where he has the stepping and running ability
of a nippy three-quarter.

If the
“Kwagga” gallops with suitable glee, enterprise and menace against Wales, South
Africa may be closer than we imagine to a significant tactical shift for more
critical dates on their calendar …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter:
@RobHouwing

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