Lambie in it for the long haul
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - His is one of the freshest faces at the 2011 World Cup, but Pat Lambie is looking more and more like a regular part of the tournament’s “furniture”.
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Certainly if the Springboks manage - touch wood - to go all the way to the final for a second time on the trot, the 20-year-old must be heavily favoured now to take to the Eden Park turf in the No 15 jersey for his country ... or at least hog that spot for as long as South Africa retain an interest in the competition.
Lambie started this World Cup, let’s not forget, a bit more peripherally, because smart money suggested the preferred “first team” midfield combination for the Boks would be the settled Stormers alliance of Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie, with versatile Frans Steyn similarly entrusted with first-choice status at fullback.
But the jinxed De Villiers reluctantly departed through injury after only 24 minutes of the Boks’ heart-stopping opener against Wales, leading to a strategic shift next time around against Fiji which saw Steyn summoned closer to the action at No 12 - and in his two outings there thus far, the Racing Metro player has been one of the revelations of RWC 2011.
And while Steyn has earned many of the laurels for the Boks’ attacking rejuvenation against both Fiji and Namibia, Lambie has quietly yet also efficiently profited handsomely by filling the void in the last line.
The side announced by coach Peter de Villiers on Monday for the final Pool D fixture against Samoa at North Harbour on Friday again features Lambie at the back and, considering that the starting XV appears to very closely resemble a line-up the coach would field if the final were played in the next day or two, the former Michaelhouse head boy is destined to go all the way now.
Lambie is an entirely different (yes, perhaps that should read: inferior) physical beast to Steyn, whose height and brawn were initially viewed as comforting assets for the No 15 chore.
Yet it must be a tribute, in some ways, to the Durban-born customer’s coolness and tenacity - despite being at 1.77m the shortest man in the Bok XV against the legendarily uncompromising Samoans - that Lambie is presently considered a highly suitable alternative as Steyn struts his stuff nearer the heavy traffic.
Fairly predictably then, the fit-again De Villiers stays in the relative cold for Friday’s date, where the Boks probably just need a lone point to put their passage to the knockout phase beyond doubt - but he does claim a spot on another backline-light Bok bench, so may well get to see some action in a likely rough-and-tumble meeting.
The split is 5-2 in favour of forwards, with a full front row available as substitutes once more, which bears out match-day captain Victor Matfield’s statement that “hopefully we can put pressure on them at the set-piece”.
In some respects De Villiers is an attractive reserve because he can operate in midfield or at wing, whilst fellow sub Francois Hougaard also covers more than one position with nonchalant ease.
Of course if anything were to happen to Morné Steyn, either of Lambie or Frans Steyn could slot in at flyhalf pretty seamlessly.
The team picked for the Samoan challenge contains notably few surprises, although in the healthy little ding-dong between Gurthro Steenkamp and Tendai Mtawarira for first rights to the loosehead prop position, it is “Beast’s” opportunity to be the beneficiary of “rotation” between the two - he teams up in the front row with old Sharks buddies in the shape of the Du Plessis brothers.
Arguably the two players under the most pressure to perform slickly on Friday will be two veterans of the 2007 triumph, Bryan Habana and Fourie du Preez, both of them intriguingly under pressure from one man, the hugely hungry Hougaard, for either of their positions.
South Africa: 15 Pat Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Frans Steyn 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Substitutes: 16 John Smit, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 CJ van der Linde, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Jean de Villiers.
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