Bok No 10: Lambie duels Steyn
Patrick Lambie (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - It’s the “Battle of the Bees II” ... and also a fascinating duel at flyhalf as hometown pin-up Patrick Lambie
confronts Morné Steyn to thicken the three-way plot in the race to be top Springbok pivot on the end-of-year tour.
The Sharks, losing finalists in 2011, take on the Blue Bulls in the first Currie Cup semi-final on Saturday (Mr Price Kings Park, 16:30), whilst defending champions the Lions entertain Western Province in the later clash at Coca-Cola Park in Johannesburg (19:00).
The Durban meeting is a carbon copy of the semi two years ago, when an unexpected swarm of agitated bees colonised a section of the pitch and delayed the start by some 40 minutes.
Then, the Sharks prevailed 16-12 before going on to win the trophy at the expense of well-beaten Western Province in the showpiece.
Lambie and Steyn wore the respective No 10 shirts in that semi-final too, with the latter registering 12 points to Lambie’s 11, though Keegan Daniel
’s lone try of the match made a critical difference.
They are players of rather contrasting philosophies and hallmarks in the important channel, but each inarguably effective in their own way ... and both also in decent form, based on evidence from the last weekend of round-robin play.
Lambie was a sparkling attacking link in the Sharks’ expected, comfortable disposal of Griquas on Friday night, whilst Steyn stuck to what he is traditionally good at - a clinical tactical and place-kicking game - as the Bulls rumbled to victory over a deliberately under-strength but still commendably spirited Lions outfit in Johannesburg.
With Young Turk and current Bok first-choice Johan Goosen sadly ruled out by injury for the remainder of the year, Elton Jantjies
, diminutive pivot for the defending-champion Lions, is probably entitled to be labelled the Test incumbent as he replaced the stricken Goosen and played the best part of the defeat to the All Blacks at FNB Stadium.
The left-footed player also began Saturday’s Highveld derby off the bench, in all likelihood a tactical move as provincial coach Johan Ackermann rested several normally first-choice troops because the Lions were already assured of second-placed finish.
Veteran Butch James
instead started the match in the flyhalf slot and as captain, before moving pretty seamlessly to inside centre as Jantjies got 40 minutes of game-time.
Unfortunately for Jantjies, perhaps, he was slightly below his best after entering the fray, though his presence coincided with the Lions’ “second-stringers” running out of steam a little with the Bok-laden Bulls turning the screws impressively.
But Steyn, recently ditched from Bok plans after a significant tenure, got all but the last couple of minutes of the fixture and was the choice of SuperSport pundit and his former Bulls captain and Bok team-mate Victor Matfield
for the official player-of-the-match award.
The most heartening aspect of Steyn’s game was that he largely got his mojo back off the tee, and even if the Bulls’ kick-and-chase formula doesn’t win friends universally, his contribution in that department played a major role in their exploiting it handsomely to their advantage on the day.
Jantjies had mixed the good with the indifferent in his extended on-field spell for the Boks against New Zealand recently, and if national coach Heyneke Meyer
is going to stick to his general liking for consistency, probably deserves to start the first of South Africa’s three Northern Hemisphere Tests against Ireland in Dublin on November 10.
But the cat could also be set among the pigeons if either of Lambie or Steyn leaves a massive stamp on Saturday’s first semi.
There must still be every chance that all three will make the tour cut, given Lambie’s versatile credentials also as a fullback and someone who can cover inside centre if necessary.
Both Currie Cup “last four” games are appetising for a host of reasons, especially as returning Boks gave the latest round a noticeable cutting edge.
The semis feature three of the same sides who graced last year’s equivalent stage, the only exception being the Bulls - fifth-placed in 2011 - stealing a berth this time from the Cheetahs, who are instead thrown into a promotion/relegation scrap with the EP Kings.
Western Province could be said to be the most desperate side next weekend, given that their last Currie Cup triumph was as long ago as 2001.
But they have also been Super Rugby conference winners for two seasons in a row, and are arguably slight favourites to knock over the Lions in the Big Smoke.
That is because, with Springboks back in the domestic mix, Super Rugby is best used as a yardstick for prospects - and in that competition earlier in the year the Stormers pipped the Lions each time, 24-19 away and 27-17 at Newlands.
Expect bookies to fancy a Sharks-WP final, albeit with some credible protesting views from both Highveld-based participants in the semis ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing