JON CARDINELLI writes that Pat Lambie must be granted an extended starting opportunity this November if Heyneke Meyer hopes to obtain conclusive answers to the flyhalf question.
Lambie will start this Saturday, but it shouldn’t be a case of do or die in Dublin. He must be given an extended opportunity to prove why he is a strong flyhalf option for next season as well as the 2015 World Cup in England.
Meyer has made it clear that Johan Goosen is his preferred pivot. Goosen’s season-ending injury has, however, forced the Bok coach to consider other options for this tour.
According to Meyer, it’s been a difficult decision to make. But now that Lambie’s been backed to start in Dublin, it should follow that he starts in Edinburgh and London too.
To chop and change in subsequent Tests against Scotland and England would be counterproductive. Give Lambie an extended opportunity. Allow him the chance to settle into the position.
Once the tour has finished, consider what he offers as a game manager in testing northern hemisphere conditions, and make the call on whether it’s worth persisting with him in that all-important position.
But don’t make a career-defining call based on one or two starts.
The 22-year-old Lambie has 17 Test caps to name, but has only started on seven occasions. This Saturday’s match will mark just the second time he has started a Test at flyhalf.
Meyer’s predecessor, Peter de Villiers, liked the idea of Lambie as No 10, although he used Lambie there just five times (once as a starter against the All Blacks in 2011, and then four times as a substitute).
Meyer needs to give Lambie more game time in that channel if he hopes to return from this tour with conclusive answers to the flyhalf question.
There isn’t a lot that Meyer can learn from the De Villiers era, but it is worth reflecting on how De Villiers approached the flyhalf problem ahead of the 2008 tour to the United Kingdom.
De Villiers surprised all and sundry by declaring that Ruan Pienaar would start at flyhalf. It was clear that Pienaar was going to be backed for the duration of the tour and that any assessment or decision regarding Pienaar’s future in the position would be made after the third Test.
Pienaar blew hot and cold in the tour-opener in Cardiff, and was rescued on more than one occasion by the tactically peerless Fourie du Preez. The Boks then struggled in the next match against Scotland, and it was only a late try by Jaque Fourie that saw them avoiding an embarrassing defeat.
But the Boks, and Pienaar, saved their most complete performance for that final tour fixture at Twickenham. South Africa smashed England 42-6, with Pienaar producing one of his most clinical and confident displays in a Bok shirt.
It was enough to win Pienaar the position for the 2009 British & Irish Lion series, where he played an important role in the first two Tests. Most will remember substitute flyhalf Morné Steyn’s contributions in the second Test as series-clinching, but Pienaar’s influence cannot be discounted.
I’m not saying that Lambie will spearhead another 40-point massacre at Twickenham on 24 November. What I am suggesting is that Lambie and this Bok side should be at their most settled when they arrive in London for the last match of the tour.
Lambie must be allowed to settle in the coming matches against Ireland and Scotland. He shouldn’t be judged too harshly if he makes mistakes. The Test against England will be the toughest of the three, and it is here that the biggest statement could be made.
Meyer told Lambie earlier this year that he needed to improve his tactical kicking if he was going to be considered as a Test flyhalf option. This Saturday, the pressure will be significantly greater than it was during the Currie Cup play-offs, where Lambie excelled as game manager, and Meyer will be watching closely to see how Lambie responds.
But Dublin should been viewed as the start of Lambie’s assessment, not a one-off examination. It’s taken a long time for Meyer to come to a decision that Lambie should start at all. It’s only fair that he now gives Lambie enough game time to state his case.