Lambie set for starting spot
Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - The Cell C Sharks look set to be boosted by the return of some key players for the Vodacom Super Rugby Finals Series that starts with the first play-off game against the Highlanders in Durban on Saturday.
According to the supersport.com website, while director of rugby Jake White noted that he had yet to assess any possible injuries from the bruising and brutal derby against the Stormers, and apparently the Sharks change-room did look like a war-zone afterwards, he was confident that Springboks Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira and Patrick Lambie will be available for selection.
Star scrumhalf Cobus Reinach, who missed the Stormers game with a slight niggle that White decided not to risk once the Crusaders had made it mission impossible in terms of clinching a top two spot, will also be back in the selection mix this week. JP Pietersen, who left the field after suffering concussion in a clash of heads with fellow Bok Duane Vermeulen, is also expected to be available.
“I think JP Is fine. It is his birthday today and I think he was happy he was knocked out so that he forgot his birthday,” grinned White.
“He did fail the concussion test which was why he didn’t carry on playing but there are various checks and balances that we will go through this week and if he passes those he will play against the Highlanders.”
It is the availability of Lambie that should have most Sharks supporters experiencing a jolt of confidence, for the injured flyhalf has been sorely missed this season while he has been out nursing an injured bicep. It is no coincidence that the Sharks try scoring bonus points were scored early in the year, when he was still available, and if he is available to play in the play-offs he should add an attacking dimension that has been lacking.
White rates Lambie highly and has hinted that he will be ready to select him straight into the starting team should he be passed fit to play.
“Patrick has been training with us for the past couple of weeks and he is an important member of the squad and will expect to play if he is passed fit to do so,” said White.
“You might say it would be a risk to bring him straight back in, but he has a knack of coming back cold and then being named man of the match. You will recall that he did that in a Currie Cup final a couple of years ago. Frans (Steyn) was good tonight, S’bura (Sithole) was fantastic, so it is not a train smash if Lambie isn’t ready, but it will be a big boost for us if he is.
“The Highlanders haven’t played Lima Sopoaga, who has been their first choice flyhalf, in the last few matches, so they are probably facing the same dilemma as we do. Do they play the guy who played last week, or do they bring their first choice back? Pat has been training and means a lot to the group.”
While Mtawarira is expected to be fit, his absence has increased the Sharks’ front-row depth, which might come in useful during the Finals Series.
“I thought Thomas du Toit played a great game at loosehead. The experience of playing a game like this would have been of huge benefit for him. He is just 19 years old and has now experienced playing a massive derby game against the Stormers and come through on the winning side.”
White felt the result of the Newlands game vindicated his decision the previous week to rest key players against the Cheetahs.
“The senior players were very upset with me last week when I told them they weren’t starting, but you have to put that decision into the correct context,” said White.
“We went overseas for four weeks and those guys played in every game, and then we came back and played a tough game against the Stormers, and they played again. They then played four consecutive weeks in the international window, so I just felt that I had to make a big call or it might come back to bite me later on.
“I am really not sure we would have won against the Stormers had we played the senior players in Bloemfontein last week. That was my gut feeling. Every guy in the squad is desperate to win the competition, and I sensed that last week when they were so upset after we lost. But the momentum we get from this game going into the play-offs supercedes losing last week. Had those guys played last week we might now be sitting with a doom and gloom atmosphere as we head into the play-offs.”