Cape Town – There are players who are deemed adaptable to
berths outside of their comfort zone on an emergency or temporary basis … and
then there are the genuinely versatile ones.
I believe Pat Lambie falls into the latter category; a thinking
footballer with fine hand and kicking skills who could quite genuinely nail
down a place at flyhalf, fullback or possibly even inside centre at any level
of rugby if asked to focus on it on a reasonably consistent basis.
Chosen a little unexpectedly to start at fullback for South
Africa in the Castle Rugby Championship Test against Australia at Loftus on
Saturday after his long absence through concussion, Lambie may well prove a
more shrewd, solid choice than some are giving coach Allister Coetzee credit
The No 15 jersey is in a state of fluidity this year with
the relative decline of mercurial Willie le Roux, Johan Goosen’s generally
unconvincing, experimental sequence of four matches there earlier in the
tournament, and the unavailability through long-term injury of a young hopeful
like the 21-year-old Bulls specialist in the position Warrick Gelant.
There is a staunch case for saying Lambie may be dangerously
rusty in the last line of defence – he last started a Test for the Boks there
against Wales at the Millennium Stadium almost three years ago, when they won
24-15 and Morne Steyn (as is the case again this weekend) was at flyhalf.
Admittedly Steyn got a back spasm on that occasion and
Lambie was hastily drafted back into the closer berth even before the first
quarter had run its course as Le Roux came off the bench to operate at the
But Lambie is going to be a tad stale anyway, regardless of
specific role, considering that he has had desperately little rugby since that
nasty collision with CJ Stander’s thigh in the first Test against Ireland at
Newlands in early June.
The Sharks captain, who turns 26 in mid-October, is also
good enough and wise enough to be able to fit in fairly seamlessly, at a post
where he has begun a total of seven prior Tests and also served it around a
dozen times off the bench – in short, he is no international novice at
He started four games there during the 2011 World Cup, and
perhaps some people forget how much ease and aplomb he showed during that time.
It is a relevant issue because part of me wonders whether,
if Lambie wishes (as he no doubt does) to start as regularly as possible for
his country, fullback may be a very viable option for him – particularly from
That is when a certain Handre Pollard, still only 22, ought
to be right back in the frame for the No 10 jersey after his unfortunate
“wipe-out” 2016 calendar year.
Again for those with short memories, Pollard is an immense
talent who has already consummately demonstrated that at the very premier
levels – including providing some genuinely bothersome moments for the All
Blacks – and when he is fully fit again he will also offer necessary, more
robust physicality and general go-forward in an area of the field where the
Boks are fairly lightweight right now.
Like Lambie, he is also one of those individuals who brings
natural leadership, and that is reassuring considering a fair old
headless-chicken phenomenon amidst the Bok ranks of late.
If Elton Jantjies also bounces back from his near-inevitable
axing this week a more confident, rounded and assertive individual, there could
be really healthy competition for the Bok pivot spot in 2017.
That seems a forceful enough reason to suggest that Lambie
giving the Boks overdue authority and calmness at No 15 this week – and perhaps
also next, against New Zealand, at his so familiar Kings Park? – will reopen
positive debate about his longer-term credentials for the position.
Even as undercooked as he is at present, I rather fancy he
can do so with some haste …
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