Springbok kicking coach Louis Koen says he has the utmost faith that Pat Lambie will develop into a world class Test flyhalf but stressed it is critical that he settles in the position in Super Rugby.
Lambie has been used at fullback, flyhalf and inside centre at the Durban franchise and himself said a fortnight ago that he isn’t prepared to ‘put all my eggs in one basket just yet’ in a positional sense. However, the time is nearing when the 22-year-old and his coaches will have to be decisive in this regard.
Certainly it is at pivot where he has looked most comfortable and most dangerous. He was initially seen predominantly as a fullback for the Springboks, but has since convinced Heyneke Meyer of his potential as a flyhalf. Koen believes it is where he is best suited and hopes the Sharks make the decision to settle him there.
‘I believe it is absolutely imperative that he plays at flyhalf for the Sharks next year and vital for South African rugby. I can’t speak for John Plumtree [Sharks head coach] but I believe the more he plays there the more he’ll blossom,’ Koen said.
Lambie appears competent in most of the key performance areas of a Test flyhalf but has struggled to get his tactical kicking to a point where it meets the expectations of the coaching staff. Koen said he isn’t overly concerned about this, explaining that refinement will come with more game time.
I’ve got a lot of confidence in Pat Lambie. He has everything you look for in a flyhalf. In the first half against Scotland you could already see an improvement in his tactical game. He isn’t there yet, but you have to take into account that he has played a lot of his rugby at fullback. Test rugby also offers you less space and time and the ball comes out slower, which presents unique challenges. But I can only see a great future for him,’ Koen said.
The former Springbok flyhalf, however, acknowledged that their kicking game has been inconsistent, highlighting a lack of protection for scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar as being central to this. He said this has been an area of focus and hoped that better ball protection would offer Pienaar the time to set and execute better kicks.
Defence coach John McFarland offered greater insight into why he believed their preferred method hasn’t yielded the results they’ve sought.
‘At the start of the year the refs were very hard on the opposition blocking our kick chasers. Now those chasers are like the ball in pin-ball machines, which has compromised our chase. That’s the reason we’re not as effective as we’d like to be,’ he said.
The Springboks won’t veer from their territory-based approach at Twickenham against England, with Koen explaining that the problems they’ve encountered are not attributable to the decision to kick but the execution thereof.
‘We were good in the first half against Scotland with our kicks. Out of the 14 we did, we had 12 positive outcomes. But of the 10 we made in the second there were only two positive outcomes. So certainly a game of two halves kicking-wise,’ he said.
‘I felt we rushed a couple of times when we kicked. The leadership at 9,10,12 will take more responsibility there against England. It was a combination of inexperience and lack of communication that forced us to panic. Although I though we picked the right time to kick, we didn’t execute well enough. The positive that came out of there was that we felt it was the first time the guys were making the right decisions as to when to run and when to kick. We can build on that.
‘This week against Scotland was one of the few Test matches that we kicked more than the opposition. Fortunately stats show that you are rewarded for playing in the right areas and teams that are carrying the ball less are winning games. That isn’t something I’m excited about but it is the reality. The key is when we kick, it has to be the right decision to do so and then the execution must be spot on.’