Paige, Lambie combo for Eng Test?

2016-10-13 10:20
Pat Lambie (Getty)

Cape Town – Rudy Paige and Pat Lambie … that seems the fairly logical halfback alliance for the tottering Springboks in their first and most critical Test date of the end-of-year tour against Eddie Jones’s fast-emerging England side at Twickenham on November 12.

Apart from any conventional appeal over their pairing at Nos 9 and 10 respectively, a far from unimportant extra consideration is that both will be available – a merciful situation considering how many other Boks aren’t – for the acclimatising, non-Test fixture against the Barbarians at Wembley a week earlier.

That fixture falls outside the World Rugby international window, eliminating a good number of overseas-based players in coach Allister Coetzee’s broad squad from contention for it.

These include utility back Francois Hougaard of Worcester Warriors, who is in the current picture both as a wing as scrumhalf, plus a trio of flyhalves: France-based Johan Goosen and Morne Steyn, and also Elton Jantjies (Japan).

All would be available, if wanted, for the more heavyweight matches that follow – England, Italy and Wales respectively – but Paige and Lambie could steal a vital march on the other challengers if they are the expected combination against the BaaBaas and perform at least tidily.

Given the tradition of Barbarians games, it seems a suitably “relaxed” and hopefully attack-minded sort of environment for them to strut their stuff.

Paige and Lambie have not featured together at all in the scrumhalf-flyhalf channel for South Africa, so an opportunity to do so in the tour opener would be the perfect forum for establishing the necessary synergy if they were to extend a combination into the keenly-awaited clash with England.

Of course someone like Goosen – arguably above both Steyn and Jantjies – also offers strong possibilities for the pivot berth at Twickenham. Of his 10 Test caps for the Boks so far, only two of them have been starts in his most familiar spot.

As wretched as he was in general play in the deflating 57-15 reverse to the All Blacks in Durban, penalty-goal ace Steyn may still be considered by Coetzee for the winter Tests in the “north” as chilly, potentially heavy conditions won’t necessarily guarantee expansive rugby in them.

Certainly it would be a surprise if the more mercurial but presently labouring Jantjies roars back into the starting frame during November; his forte is more clearly firm and fast pitches and an up-tempo game-plan the Boks so painfully lack conviction for at present anyway.

I still believe that Lambie offers versatile Bok credentials going forward as a fullback, despite his rare personal shocker there against the New Zealanders; remember that he was still a bit underdone in game-time and confidence after his lengthy layoff from a particularly serious concussion against Ireland back in June.

He is likely to only get sharper and more assured in general terms over the next few weeks.

But he is also an attractive “total” flyhalf, bearing in mind his ability to play both a conservative game, when circumstances warrant it, and a more expansive brand. There is also nothing wrong with his place-kicking, often a major factor in slow-grind Tests in Europe.

Of Lambie’s 53 caps, around 20 of them have come in games in the northern hemisphere, so he boasts solid experience of conditions there.

Bulls scrumhalf Paige, meanwhile, who is also happily restored to health after a less severe dose of concussion, more than deserves a second opportunity – after a promising first three-quarters of the victory over the Wallabies at Loftus, until he wobbled off – to start a Bok game when the Barbarians are tackled.

The five-cap player’s basic efficiencies in the role were suitably slick in Pretoria and, with no discernible “general” in the position on the South African landscape at the moment, I believe this patient fellow deserves to nose ahead of Faf de Klerk (albeit also available for the BaaBaas clash) in the pecking order as things stand.

De Klerk was poor again at Kings Park, although he certainly wasn’t alone in his defensive shortcomings becoming too apparent anew against the dashing All Blacks who had many others at sixes and sevens on retreat.

The Lions dynamo in Super Rugby has had a handful of painfully sub-standard Tests in succession, unfortunately, after such a promising kick-off to his international career against the Irish …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  pat lambie  |  rudy paige  |  rugby

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