Ace axis

RYAN VREDE writes the 10-12 combination of Frederic Michalak and Pat Lambie could infuse life into the Sharks’ stuttering back division.

Rugby being a game of cause and effect, means the Sharks’ backline’s failure to fire is not the root of their struggles. Their forwards have lacked the physicality to trouble the tournament’s elite teams at the gainline, and questionable selections, like the omission of Bismarck du Plessis against the Lions last week, as well as injuries to key players, most notably Willem Alberts and Jean Deysel, have further undermined their cause.

With a play-off berth hinging on the result of their match against the Bulls at Loftus on Saturday, it is imperative that their pack fronts in a manner they have not done since the early rounds of the tournament. The Bulls have struggled to impose themselves on attack against the tournament’s best, but have rediscovered the defensive punch that made them a formidable opponent in recent years.

It is a testament to Pat Lambie’s prodigious talent that he still managed to have an influence on matches playing behind a group of forwards who have struggled of late. There was, however, little he could do about the impotency of his midfield pair, Meyer Bosman and Stefan Terblanche. Their outside backs struggled as a result, and had winger JP Pietersen not showed glimpses of his best form recently, the Sharks would have had posed little threat in the wide channels.

Lambie could galvanise the midfield, where he has been deployed to good effect in the past, and would form a potentially potent 10-12 axis with Michalak.

The Frenchman was inspirational when he was introduced with the Sharks in dire need of creativity, invention and experience against the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday. He varies his play well, creating an air of unpredictability around him, and uncertainty in the opposition’s defensive line. He also has the capacity to change the course of a match with a moment of sublime skill. Lambie will benefit from this. He has he been saddled with the creative burden for too long.

It is also important to note that Michalak has never played in a Sharks side that has lost to the Bulls, winning three of the matches he has been involved in, including the Currie Cup final in 2008. He undoubtedly has respect for their players, but isn’t scarred by having lost to them as regularly as some of his team-mates have. That mental edge, in a high-pressure match of this ilk, is invaluable.

I will reiterate the importance of gain line and set phase dominance for the Sharks against the defending champions. But beyond that they need something special, something that would demand the attention of Bulls’ defenders, potential match winners. The Michalak-Lambie combination would offer them that.