Johannesburg — Could it be? Is it possible? Has it happened? Have the Lions landed a coup with their latest signing? Are they loading Kwagga Smith 2.0?
All are pertinent questions after the Joburgers unveiled Sevens superstar JC Pretorius on Tuesday as their newest acquisition – a well-known fact for some weeks – but now an official one.
Pretorius, who is nominated for SA Rugby Springbok Sevens Player of the Year, has already begun his odyssey in fifteens, and in the coming days, weeks and months the comparisons with Smith – for now at least – will be inescapable.
And it could be completely justified
Both are products of HTS Middelburg, and like Smith, Pretorius had the Sevens circuit at his mercy when he decided earlier this year to shift focus to fifteens. To do so, both decided to join the Lions, and much like Smith before him, one would expect that Pretorius would want to follow a similar upwards trajectory.
The comparisons don’t end there either, as the 24-year-old Pretorius is considered to be a similar type and build to the Springbok loose forward.
Both are seen as nuggetty players who will be good on the ground, mobile around the field, and as tough as nails. Pretorius will pack down in the loose as an openside flank for the Lions, much like Smith, and will be of a similar maturity level to the 29-year-old when he first started playing fifteens.
Moreover, both have that spark, that extra skill set that only Sevens players can bring to any team. Pretorius admitted that he too is looking to Smith as his baseline as he begins his journey.
“I definitely chatted with the (Sevens) guys (playing fifteens now), but mostly Kwagga,” Pretorius said.
“He is a role model for me – and there isn’t a better place to be (than here). He was also at the Lions; and he knows the ins-and-outs of the system. He can help me a lot to fit into it and especially with my role as a No 6 flank.”
Slotting into his new team, however, will not be easy.
Pretorius will be jockeying for a place in the matchday 23 against highly talented loose forwards, such as Francke Horn, who is currently injured but has been the Lions’ form player this season; the busy Sibusiso Sangweni; the ever-impressive Emmanuel Tshituka; the bull-dosing Ruan Venter; and not to forget a legend of the Lions – and his direct competition – Jaco Kriel.
Pretorius, however, remained pragmatic about his switch, explaining: “(The Lions) fit my running style of rugby …
“I have said to myself that I won’t rush anything coming into the system. I am learning quite a lot from the guys, especially from a guy like Jaco. He is also a role model for me.
“I know there is a lot of rugby to be played, but firstly for me it is just about slotting into the system, learning and adapting to everything and then taking it from there …
“I started training (on Monday). We had a session that I was already in and it felt like, because of the awareness that you have to have in Sevens, everything happens slower in fifteens.
“I will bring in a lot of vocals and chat within the team on attack, and definitely work ethic, like Kwagga, regarding poaching the ball and stuff like that.”
It was a sentiment shared by Lions assistant coach Albert van den Berg, who revealed, to his mind, the major selling points of the team’s newest member.
“JC is a great add-on for us in that No 6 position,” Van deb Berg said.
“He played brilliantly in the Sevens. A lot of teams talk about having a fetcher and JC brings that.
“He is also a lineout option for us as well. He brings a massive work-rate to the team as a young player. We are quite happy to have him in the team.”
The Lions face the Sharks on Friday in Durban, a United Rugby Championship fixture that could be a bit too soon for Pretorius’ involvement. There will be, however, plenty of opportunities after that as the Lions travel to the Stormers next week, and then begin a four-week European tour in January.
The first signs of Kwagga 2.0 might be seen then.