Boks in UK
Lambie must lift body language
Cape Town - There was a rightful and widespread, at the time, sigh of relief when Heyneke Meyer
finally responded to the loud call for Pat Lambie to be installed as Springbok flyhalf.
It seemed like a new beginning - and maybe in that very weight of expectation alone can lie certain pitfalls.
The 22-year-old has had successive starts against Ireland and Scotland on the end-of-year tour and perhaps the brightest thing you can say in that regard is that South Africa are unbeaten with Lambie in the No 10 channel.Video: Springbok press conference
For the sake of continuity under those circumstances and with the position such an important, high-involvement one, it will be a surprise if Meyer alters personnel there for the closing Test against England at Twickenham on Saturday. (At the time of writing, he had enough uncertainties in other departments - niggles, citings and the like - to mull over.)
The head coach would also then be able to say, with some conviction and justification, that he gave the baby-faced Sharks star a decent run in the slot - and bear in mind that Meyer has not always been particularly sold on the idea of the versatile Lambie being the answer to his flyhalf prayers anyway.
But based on decidedly mixed evidence from the first two Tests on the trip, and with the team as a whole yet to get really rave reviews in either Ireland or the UK, the Bok No 10 riddle isn’t especially closer to being solved.
The majority view, to use a slightly less than scientific description, is that Lambie has been okay ... no better, no worse than that.
Personally, I lean slightly more to the side of outright disappointment in his back-to-back Bok performances - and that from a hitherto admirer, note - even if there are so often mitigating reasons for a particular player not delivering quite to his known first-class ability.
Especially in KwaZulu-Natal, rightly or wrongly, a lobby is suggesting that an ultra-conservative Bok game-plan is choking Lambie’s aspirations to bring some verve and oomph to the berth.
It is true that for the Sharks, Super Rugby and Currie Cup runners-up this year, the natural footballer in Lambie came strongly to the fore for the most part.
With him often instrumental, they played with gusto and an eternal keenness for deft offloading and gap-taking, and scored some fine tries at times, which sadly is not something you can “accuse” the Springboks of on this tour yet.
But the demands of Test rugby have always been slightly different, and it may well be too convenient, rather than actually accurate, to submit that he is significantly muzzled by the Bok game-day script.
The best flyhalves just have a way of making things happen, whether it is in keeping with the coach’s intentions or not - theirs is a spot on the park, after all, with as much potential as any other for taking the initiative, for instinctively “playing the situation” sometimes.
As much as anything else, you want the flyhalf to ooze confidence and authority, regardless of whether he sings from the same song-sheet in tactical terms as his team-mates or the off-field string-pullers.
With the Lambie of Dublin and Edinburgh, it has been hard to fathom exactly what his intentions, desires and - to those observers who may not yet be familiar with him - key strengths really are.
A little strangely and perplexingly (for it is not a known flaw of his?) Lambie hasn’t yet exhibited the kind of body language at Bok flyhalf to suggest that he truly wants to be there ... he has just looked more the callow, tentative foot-soldier than the decisive general so far on tour.
I would even go so far as to argue that, for all the trauma the Boks experienced as the game at FNB Stadium against the All Blacks wore on a few weeks ago, Elton Jantjies
- playing the majority of that Castle Rugby Championship match, albeit off the bench - demonstrated greater willingness to try to genuinely take charge of the position than Lambie has against either Ireland or Scotland.
Jantjies is arguably an unlucky, conspicuously peripheral Bok tourist at present, although perhaps that is a topic for another day.
Even if it means a wicked deviation every now and then from the intended script, would it be asking too much of Lambie to grasp the nettle at Twickenham, to put an overdue, true personal stamp on proceedings?
If you manage to make good things happen, the coach - any coach - is highly likely to forgive any sudden bursts of initiative or intuition, isn’t he?
An assertive, more assured personal game might keep Lambie in the inside lane for the Bok No 10 jersey at the outset of next year’s Bok programme, whether Cheetahs phenomenon Johan Goosen is fit and firing again or not.
But another inconclusive showing in London runs the risk of seeing him tumble down the flyhalf pecking order in coach Meyer’s mind, possibly even to a point where it will be difficult to claw back from.
Will the real Pat Lambie please stand up on Saturday?
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing