RYAN VREDE, writing from Dublin, says Pat Lambie ran at flyhalf for the bulk of Monday’s training session in a strong indicator that he will play ahead of Morne Steyn at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
Lambie impressed throughout the Super Rugby campaign in the position and was exceptional in Currie Cup semi-final at Kings Park, where his tactical game management and goal-kicking lead the Sharks to the final.
It had been a straight choice between Lambie and Steyn for head coach Heyneke Meyer, who remained hopeful that Steyn would regain his confidence after dropping him for the home leg of the Rugby Championship. He believes Steyn’s tactical kicking game is the best of his available flyhalves, but has acknowledged Lambie’s growth in this facet of play, most recently at Monday’s press conference which preceded training.
‘You can’t compare the Currie Cup and Tests but he showed great tactical awareness in winning the Currie Cup with the Sharks in 2010 as 19 or 20 year old. Suddenly I’ve seen some of that in him again and he is really improving and knocking on the door hard at the moment.’
Steyn is now unlikely to feature in the match 22 as Meyer doesn’t see him as an impact player, with Elton Jantjies expected to provide cover on the wood.
Lambie has an opportunity to stake a serious claim for the shirt and will be acutely aware of the importance of a strong performance at the weekend. Johan Goosen remains Meyer’s preferred pivot of those at his disposal, but with Meyer set to commit to a deputy for Goosen for the 2013 season and onwards towards the World Cup, Lambie has an inside lane.
‘I know Morne will get back to his best soon,’ Meyer said. ‘Dan Carter said to me a couple of years ago that he went through a difficult time and went to France and came back a better player, which gives me confidence about Morne [Meyer was intimating that a break will have done Steyn good]. But you also want to see who is the next guy after Goosen.’
Meyer lamented that nearly a year into his reign he was still deciding between flyhalves.
‘Because the three are young [Goosen, Lambie and Jantjies] the only way you’ll see whether they have it or not is by playing them. The difficulty is that if your flyhalf isn’t on song then you lose because he runs the whole game plan. I would have loved to have the opportunity earlier in my tenure to look at the 10s. But I didn’t have that luxury. We’re probably the only elite nation without an established 10,’ he said.
He did, however, express delight at the new-found depth in a position that has historically been troublesome.
‘I’m happy at what we have at present and then future looks good with Handre Pollard and others coming through,’ he said. ‘If you look at the last 10 years this is probably the best group of flyhalves we’ve had available. But how they respond in these conditions is key. They’re all good at running and distributing the ball, but with the World Cup being in England you’ll need guys who are tactically astute. They all have to work on that aspect of their games.’
Meanwhile, JP Pietersen is set to be reinstated on the wing after missing the Rugby Championship through injury. Francois Hougaard is likely to retain his place on the opposite flank.
Jean de Villiers and Francois Louw didn’t participate in the contact session but the former ran freely and is expected to overcome a hamstring strain to start. Louw has a neck injury that is being monitored. If he fails to respond to treatment he will be replaced at openside flank by Marcell Coetzee, with Arno Botha coming onto the bench.
Adriaan Strauss will keep his place at hooker ahead of Schalk Brits, who will be used as an impact player. Elsewhere in the front row, Gurthro Steenkamp was a notable absentee at training, the prop picking up an injury in Toulouse’s match this weekend. In the event of Steenkamp’s injury precluding him from joining the squad, Leinster’s Heinke van der Merwe will be called up.
Probable Springbok XV to face Ireland – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermuelen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Beast Mtawarira.