Rugby Championship

Why ‘15’ may be Lambie’s Bok home

2016-09-30 11:20

Cape Town – There are players who are deemed adaptable to berths outside of their comfort zone on an emergency or temporary basis … and then there are the genuinely versatile ones.

I believe Pat Lambie falls into the latter category; a thinking footballer with fine hand and kicking skills who could quite genuinely nail down a place at flyhalf, fullback or possibly even inside centre at any level of rugby if asked to focus on it on a reasonably consistent basis.

Chosen a little unexpectedly to start at fullback for South Africa in the Castle Rugby Championship Test against Australia at Loftus on Saturday after his long absence through concussion, Lambie may well prove a more shrewd, solid choice than some are giving coach Allister Coetzee credit for.

The No 15 jersey is in a state of fluidity this year with the relative decline of mercurial Willie le Roux, Johan Goosen’s generally unconvincing, experimental sequence of four matches there earlier in the tournament, and the unavailability through long-term injury of a young hopeful like the 21-year-old Bulls specialist in the position Warrick Gelant.

There is a staunch case for saying Lambie may be dangerously rusty in the last line of defence – he last started a Test for the Boks there against Wales at the Millennium Stadium almost three years ago, when they won 24-15 and Morne Steyn (as is the case again this weekend) was at flyhalf.

Admittedly Steyn got a back spasm on that occasion and Lambie was hastily drafted back into the closer berth even before the first quarter had run its course as Le Roux came off the bench to operate at the back.

But Lambie is going to be a tad stale anyway, regardless of specific role, considering that he has had desperately little rugby since that nasty collision with CJ Stander’s thigh in the first Test against Ireland at Newlands in early June.

The Sharks captain, who turns 26 in mid-October, is also good enough and wise enough to be able to fit in fairly seamlessly, at a post where he has begun a total of seven prior Tests and also served it around a dozen times off the bench – in short, he is no international novice at fullback.

He started four games there during the 2011 World Cup, and perhaps some people forget how much ease and aplomb he showed during that time.

It is a relevant issue because part of me wonders whether, if Lambie wishes (as he no doubt does) to start as regularly as possible for his country, fullback may be a very viable option for him – particularly from next season.

That is when a certain Handre Pollard, still only 22, ought to be right back in the frame for the No 10 jersey after his unfortunate “wipe-out” 2016 calendar year.

Again for those with short memories, Pollard is an immense talent who has already consummately demonstrated that at the very premier levels – including providing some genuinely bothersome moments for the All Blacks – and when he is fully fit again he will also offer necessary, more robust physicality and general go-forward in an area of the field where the Boks are fairly lightweight right now.

Like Lambie, he is also one of those individuals who brings natural leadership, and that is reassuring considering a fair old headless-chicken phenomenon amidst the Bok ranks of late.

If Elton Jantjies also bounces back from his near-inevitable axing this week a more confident, rounded and assertive individual, there could be really healthy competition for the Bok pivot spot in 2017.

That seems a forceful enough reason to suggest that Lambie giving the Boks overdue authority and calmness at No 15 this week – and perhaps also next, against New Zealand, at his so familiar Kings Park? – will reopen positive debate about his longer-term credentials for the position.

Even as undercooked as he is at present, I rather fancy he can do so with some haste …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  rugby championship  |  pat lambie  |  rugby

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