Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - With Frans Steyn ruled out of Saturday’s final Castle Tri-Nations engagement with New Zealand, it seems Patrick Lambie might well get an opportunity to stake a claim to be the starting fullback at the Rugby World Cup.
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Lambie was called up on Sunday as cover for Steyn, with the Racing Metro utility back being officially ruled out of the match against the All Blacks at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Monday.
Although Gio Aplon came on as the replacement fullback against Australia last week, it was Lambie who did the most running in the Bok last line of defence in the first training session of the week on Monday.
It was noticeable that the Wallabies increased the number of kicks in the direction of fullback when Aplon was on the field in Durban, although the change of Wallaby tactics to a more kicking orientated approach was noticeable even before the Stormers player came onto the field, with the rain that fell in the second half making it the sensible option.
Aplon did fumble once or twice and also knocked one of the kicks on, but if Lambie is thrust into the starting lineup for the All Black fixture it need not necessarily be down to a failure on the part of Aplon, who was in the 22 as cover for both fullback and wing. While he did not include Lambie in the initial squad of 24 named for the Tri-Nations, coach Peter de Villiers does have a high regard for the Sharks player and what he can do.
It may well be that De Villiers just wants to see the X-factor that Lambie can bring from fullback (he has started as a flyhalf already in the Tri-Nations), and the coach hasn’t made any secret that he is regarding the Tri-Nations games as build-up and experimental opportunities for the World Cup rather than games that have to be won at all cost.
Although Steyn has only been ruled out for the All Black test, there must be some doubt about how quickly he will recover from his hamstring injury. And even if he does, he didn’t exactly take the opportunity presented to him in Durban with both hands, and it has been a while now since he has really shone in the Bok jersey.
He has long been a part of the Bok World Cup plans, but a solid showing from Lambie, if he plays, could just swing the opinion on who should wear the No 15. Of course, regardless of what happens on Saturday, Aplon, who did start the first overseas game against Australia before featuring in this last match, will be strongly in the picture, with Steyn possibly coming into the reckoning for a start at inside centre, which was where he played in the last World Cup.
The team for Saturday is to be announced on Tuesday, and the final opportunity that is being presented for experimentation could see a few changes made. Apart from fullback, where the coach’s hand is anyway forced by injury, De Villiers long ago made it known that he was going to start Bismarck du Plessis in this match.
“It was decided as long ago as in our planning meeting in May that John (Smit) would play three successive matches and that Bismarck would then start the next game,” said De Villiers.
Two further players who might be given a chance to start at the weekend are loosehead prop Gurthro Steenkamp, who looked like he needed match practice in his short stint on the field in Durban, and Willem Alberts. The latter could well start for Danie Rossouw, who like Smit has played all three Tri-Nations matches thus far.
Juan Smith, out with an Achilles injury since the early part of the season, will get a chance to prove his fitness by being made available to play for the Cheetahs in the Currie Cup this weekend.