Pat Lambie (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – South Africa look extremely well-staffed in the
key pivot position for RWC 2015 ... although debate will rage about which of Pat Lambie or Handre Pollard, engaged in a neck-and-neck tussle, actually
deserves first-choice status there.
Whether coach Heyneke Meyer is eventually proved to have
made the right call – though maybe it will be a horses-for-courses thing? -- on
that head-scratching front could be instrumental in how far the Springboks end
up going at the event.
Just ahead of the final pre-World Cup Test match in
Argentina, mercurial 21-year-old Pollard appeared to command inside lane in
Meyer’s plans, but then when Lambie got a start in Buenos Aires he seized the
opportunity with both hands in a terrifically calm, polished display.
It may have been enough to put the more experienced Sharks
man’s nose slightly in front now: with his considerably superior tally of
international caps (44 to Pollard’s 13) he seems the safer pick as things
stand, even if that hardly means the astute footballer will be an overly
robotic, easy-to-read presence in the role.
Frankly, though, I see little reason to doubt that this,
potentially, could be the premier global tournament (Pollard’s first, Lambie’s
second) that really “makes” either or both of these gifted No 10s.
They bring slightly different skill sets to the party, and perhaps
that is no bad thing: Lambie may be a fraction deeper in the pocket, as they
say, whereas Pollard is more physically suited to surging powerfully for the
gain line with ball in hand – he also has sublime long-passing ability.
Slightly impeding the Bulls flyhalf’s credentials is that in
recent months – both in Super Rugby and later for the Boks – he has mixed bits
of genius with occasional, frustrating errors like botching kick-offs or
overcooking penalties to the corners.
Still, his talent ought to be beyond dispute to most
observers and there is a good chance, considering that both men can serve other
positions, that both Lambie and Pollard will feature in several match-day 23s
at the World Cup and each get good opportunities on the park.
Will the Boks take any other specialist flyhalves along? If
they do, then it looks like a shootout between the seasoned, deadly-off-the-tee
Morne Steyn and diminutive Lions
string-puller Elton Jantjies for the
“number three” berth in the pecking order.
Steyn brings the not inconsiderable advantage of
ever-deepening knowledge of European rugby conditions, whilst in Jantjies’
favour is his reputation as a more all-round and incisive presence in the No 10
Meyer may not select either if he includes that slightly
brooding jack-of-all-trades Frans Steyn
in his squad, who could answer emergency calls to the position – and be
equipped to bang over vital penalties from as far out as 60-65 metres if
conditions are suitably benign.
The same versatility applies to one of the likely
scrumhalves, Ruan Pienaar, who has
prior experience of flyhalf and the general footballing arsenal to cope
comfortably enough as a fill-in presence if need be.
Boks’ flyhalf depth
rating ahead of RWC 2015: 7/10 ... but it does depend on deft management of
the hugely promising, front-line pair.
*Flyhalves in last
RWC squad (2011): Morne Steyn, Butch James, Pat Lambie (versatile), Frans
Steyn (versatile). The first-named player started every game for the Boks at
Boks’ RWC health: Centres
Boks’ RWC health: Wings
Boks’ RWC health: Fullbacks
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writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing