Lambie: It seems like a snub
Patrick Lambie (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - The last round of Currie Cup round-robin activity this weekend gets a welcome cutting edge for spectators and viewers across the country as a galaxy of Springboks are welcomed with open arms by their provinces.
It is not exactly in the long-term interests of the national side that these flogged horses return at this point, but this is an argument that goes round and round in endless circles and will probably continue to do so domestically until central contracting of various Test treasures becomes a reality.
The fact remains that it will bolster gates and television figures, and if a few Boks were going to be released, it was probably easier - and in the interests of fairness - to simply go the whole hog, and to hell with end-of-year-tour thinking just for the moment.
Sense looks like prevailing in certain instances, with the grossly over-exposed national captain Jean de Villiers, for instance, named on the Western Province bench only for their visit to the Sharks in a game that could decide the hosting venue for the lucrative final, even as both coastal rivals know they already have assured home semis.
Ironically there was a lurking possibility that De Villiers might have to start on Saturday night (19:10 kickoff), given the ongoing injury cloud over fellow-Bok Juan de Jongh, although a straight swap in the XV for the pretty raw Michael van der Spuy has been suggested, with the veteran thus still preserved for impact purposes in the second half.
Far from ideal in a national sense, however, is the Sharks’ inevitable fielding from the outset of their probably near-exhausted but in-form Bok front row of Tendai Mtawarira
, Bismarck du Plessis (he at least started the 2013 season very late) and Jannie du Plessis.
Just as predictably, Province fight fire with fire by gleefully infusing emerging Test asset Eben Etzebeth
, plus Duane Vermeulen
and Siya Kolisi
, elsewhere in their pack.
But such household players being thrust straight back into the Currie Cup furnace, despite their alarming volume of game-time this year in most cases, only makes the stark absence of a certain Pat Lambie from the Sharks’ run-on team that much harder to fathom.
Lambie, you see, has carried a significantly lesser load this season than certain of those names mentioned, and is, by contrast, presumably itching for an 80-minute appearance unless he is carrying an undisclosed niggle.
There is something admirable, in many ways, about the Sharks not simply jettisoning their non-internationals willy-nilly, and staying loyal to certain customers who have served them well in the lengthy absence of the megastars.
But Lambie, approaching the prime of his modern-era rugby life - he turns 23 next Thursday, though this is actually his fifth first-class season! - is a talented and seriously versatile footballer who, frankly, could have been accommodated on Saturday at any of Nos 10, 12 or 15.
Instead the Sharks keep faith in the particularly callow Fred Zeilinga
(20), the 22-year-old Heimar Williams
and relative newcomer to the franchise SP Marais in those three slots respectively.
The official line, from assistant coach Sean Everitt this week, was that Lambie will, indeed, start in next week’s semi and that benching him this week “gives him time to learn the calls”.
I would have thought that starting against WP, in a game that does not wholly tick “must win” boxes, would have been an even better method of re-familiarisation, ahead of the straight knockout match next weekend.
Countrywide, starting Springboks of all shapes and sizes have had to “learn calls” anew at Currie Cup level, and are probably confidently expected to make the adaption quickly given their collective Test calibre and associated astuteness.
Why Lambie could not have been expected to do likewise has not really been answered, by my book.
He seems so primed for a full game, after all: Lambie has only played in dribs and drabs - and done little wrong, either - for the Boks during their generally successful Castle Rugby Championship, mostly as a fullback substitute but also occasionally at flyhalf.
Here are the minutes when he took to the field throughout the tournament: Argentina at home: 58th; Argentina away: 61st; Australia away: 70th; New Zealand away: 74th; Australia home: 77th; New Zealand home: 70th.
If I were Lambie, I suspect I’d just be feeling a bit nose out of joint ahead of this weekend, given ongoing “splinters” status on the bench. If I were a Sharks fan, I might be smelling something just verging on the fishy.
Anyone agree, or am I being unnecessarily conspiratorial in my thinking? Perhaps more pertinently, is Lambie paying a price again for just being so adaptable positionally, and perhaps not valued enough for any single role through no special fault of his own?Teams:Sharks:
15. SP Marais, 14. Odwa Ndungane
, 13. Tim Whitehead
, 12. Heimar Williams
, 11. Lwazi Mvovo
, 10. Fred Zeilinga
, 9. Charl McLeod, 8. Keegan Daniel
(captain), 7. Jean Deysel
, 6. Marcell Coetzee
, 5. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4. Peet Marais
, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 1. Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16. Kyle Cooper
, 17. Wiehahn Herbst
, 18. Stephan Lewies, 19. Jacques Botes, 20. Cobus Reinach
, 21. Patrick Lambie
, 22. Louis LudikWestern Province:
15. Gio Aplon, 14. Gerhard van den Heever, 13. Juan de Jongh, 12. Damian de Allende, 11. Cheslin Kolbe, 10. Demetri Catrakilis
, 9. Louis Schreuder, 8. Duane Vermeulen
, 7. Siya Kolisi
, 6. Deon Fourie
(captain), 5. De Kock Steenkamp, 4. Eben Etzebeth
, 3. Pat Cilliers, 2. Scarra Ntubeni, 1. Steven Kitshoff
Substitutes: 16. Frans Malherbe, 17. Brok Harris
, 18. Michael Rhodes
, 19. Schalk Burger, 20. Nic Groom, 21. Kurt Coleman, 22. Jean de Villiers*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing