Bok flyhalf showdown may not happen

    2016-06-28 18:17

    Gavin Rich -

    Cape Town - The appetising prospect of seeing the two Springbok frontline flyhalves testing their skills against one another in the same game may not happen due to the collision with South African born Irishman CJ Stander that ruled Patrick Lambie out of the recent test series.

    The Emirates Lions host the Cell C Sharks in a crucial game in the headline act in this weekend’s round of Vodacom Super Rugby. The Sharks need to win to press their play-off claims. A Lions win is not quite as necessary because of the flourish with which they finished the first stage of the competition, but nonetheless it is important in terms of determining who plays where and when once the knock-outs arrive.

    It is always a bit inaccurate to suggest two players in the same position can prove their superiority when they face off against one another. What a flyhalf can do on the field is often determined by how his pack performs. But the clash between Sharks captain Lambie and Lions pivot Elton Jantjies is nonetheless sure to be one of the talking points this week – if it happens.

    The word from Durban is that Lambie has yet to return to training and his participation in the match at Emirates Airlines Park, which is being regarded as a test match by the coastal team, is subject to him passing the cognitive tests that are mandatory after a player suffers concussion.

    Bok coach Allister Coetzee had hoped that Lambie would be back for the final test against Ireland in Port Elizabeth this past weekend, but he was ruled out a week before the match took place, which is an indication that the first choice flyhalf from the first test of the series was still struggling as a result of his clash with Stander.

    The loss of Lambie in the 23rd minute of the Newlands match against Ireland may have been indirectly responsible for losing that match. Jantjies replaced him but played the wrong tactical game. The Lions player improved later in the series, and his cross-kick to put JP Pietersen in for the Bok try at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium was a match defining moment and an indication of the magic that Jantjies can orchestrate.

    However, unlike his halfback partner Faf de Klerk, who went on to produce performances that quieted the concerns about his questionable kicking game that arose in the Cape Town test, Jantjies never quite took his opportunity by the scruff. He had his good moments and his not so good, and generally the Boks struggled with exiting (a problem that also arises out of having in Willie le Roux a player not blessed with the greatest distance in his kicking boot at fullback) and with getting their tactical kicking game together.

    That of course is not all down to the flyhalf, and the Boks weren’t helped by having only left footed kickers on the field after Lambie’s injury and before Ruan Combrinck was introduced in the second half of the Johannesburg match. But you do get the feeling, judging from what he said during the course of the series, that Jantjies may still have a way to go before he completely convinces coach Allister Coetzee that he should wear the No 10 jersey ahead of the more experienced Lambie.

    For Jantjies and Lambie, however, if the clash does happen this week won’t just be about proving points against each other. Lambie is the Sharks captain and after his team picked up a steady head of steam before the break for the June internationals he will be eager to help them retain their momentum against a Lions side that was far superior to them in the first round match in Durban in April.

    The Lions have several players who played a strong part in the Bok series win over Ireland, including some who were new to international rugby, so they will be confident and eager to show off their skills at the venue where most of them shone during the second half comeback in the second test.

    Sharks coach Gary Gold has been plotting their demise though during the down time in Super Rugby and it will be interesting to see if having fresh players who haven’t played for several weeks might have an impact on the game. With a place in the play-offs now virtually certain, you’d think the Lions Springboks might need down time at some point if they are to be at their optimum during the business end of the Super Rugby season.

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