RYAN VREDE, in London, writes Pat Lambie has yet to convince of his aptitude as a Test flyhalf but has an opportunity to push his case with a strong showing at Twickenham.
Lambie’s lot is an unenviable one. From the outset of the tour he was acutely aware that he would have, at most, three run outs to advance his cause as a Springbok pivot, the position he showed promise in with the Sharks this season. With Lambie’s potency resting heavily on the performance of his pack and coach Heyneke Meyer inadvertently contradicting his professed faith in Lambie by admitting that Morne Steyn is an insurance policy, his plight was complicated.
Meyer was also initially cold on the idea of Lambie in the No 10 shirt – believing him to be better suited to fullback – but has softened his stance in light of his Super Rugby and Currie Cup form. The decision to install him ahead of Steyn was a difficult one for Meyer, despite the latter’s obvious struggles throughout the season, with that call made on the Sunday before the Ireland Test. Even then it was not one taken with absolute conviction.
Adding to Lambie’s challenge was the need to adapt his natural game to meet Meyer’s high expectations of his flyhalves from a tactical kicking perspective. This has been Lambie’s weakest point over the last fortnight, although it would be remiss not to note that he has effectively had just two halves of ‘play’, owing to the Springboks’ awful start in Dublin and their regression in the second half at Murrayfield on Saturday. Furthermore he has been partnered by Ruan Pienaar, who is on his own mission to nail down a place, and a back division that lacks cohesion and synergy.
He will be desperate for things to come together over 80 minutes against England.
There have been moments to inspire confidence that he could advance his cause if given a strong platform by his forwards. He will also hope to benefit from what seems to be a measure of power that Twickenham has offered Springbok flyhalves in recent years – with Butch James, Andre Pretorius and Ruan Piennar all delivering excellent performances in their sides’ wins in 2006 and 2008 respectively. In James’s case it settled then coach Jake White’s mind that he was the right man to steer the ship at the 2007 World Cup. Pretorius made that squad on the strength of what he could offer from a goal and tactical kicking perspective, and Pienaar was retained at flyhalf for the British & Irish Lions series after his impressive offering in 2008.
He has the inside lane to be at the head of the queue to push Johan Goosen, Meyer’s first-choice flyhalf, for his place. My understanding, based on information from sources close to Lambie, is that it is also the position he sees himself settling in, despite him saying in Dublin that he is happy to switch between fullback and flyhalf at this stage.
It was always highly unrealistic to expect him to thrive in such a short period of time and against the backdrop of the aforementioned complexities. But sometimes in professional sport, this is how it is. International careers have been launched, stalled or ended by athletes who have capitalised on unexpected opportunities of this ilk.
At just 22, Lambie’s Test career certainly won’t be ended by a failure to flourish at Twickenham. It could, however, be stalled. His is one of the most interesting sub-plots that will play out. The occasion and incentive calls for an emphatic statement from Lambie.