Lambie handed vice-captaincy

Pat Lambie will be the Springboks’ vice-captain as well as the first-choice flyhalf in the Test against Ireland on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.

Elton Jantjies has been South Africa’s form flyhalf over the course of the 2016 Super Rugby competition. With Handré Pollard out of action due to a serious knee injury, many expected Jantjies to start at No 10 in the three-Test series against Ireland.

On Thursday, Coetzee revealed that Lambie will start the first Test against Ireland at Newlands. That selection may not have come as a big surprise to those who watched the Boks train over the course of the week in Cape Town. Lambie spent the bulk of those training sessions at No 10, while Jantjies, who was still recovering from a finger injury, featured intermittently.

What did come as a surprise was Coetzee’s statement regarding the vice-captaincy. Adriaan Strauss will lead the Boks in the three Tests against Ireland. Lambie will be the vice-captain at Newlands, and possibly in the two matches that follow in Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth.

‘Both Pat and Elton have shown good form in the Super Rugby tournament,’ said Coetzee. ‘Pat has done well since returning from injury, and is kicking well for poles with a success rate better than 80%. I also believe it’s a good thing to have a scrumhalf who can kick with his left foot [Faf de Klerk] and a flyhalf with his right in a halfback combination at Test level.’

Coetzee suggested that Lambie’s experience of having played 50 Tests will serve the debutant De Klerk, as well as the team as a whole.

‘Pat will play that leadership role,’ Coetzee said when asked about the designated vice-captain. ‘Duane Vermeulen will assist Strauss in the forwards, but Pat will take control of things at the back and later in the game [if Strauss leaves the field].

‘It will be good for Faf to have that experience on his outside and inside, with Duane at No 8 and Pat at 10.’

Some might conclude that the decision to back Lambie was shaped by Jantjies’s struggles with that finger injury. Indeed, there’s been some doubt about his readiness to return to competitive rugby. The Lions pivot only resumed full contact training on Thursday.

Coetzee, however, said this was not the case. The Bok coach stated that if there was still any doubt regarding Jantjies’s fitness, then the player would have started rather than featured from the bench. In that scenario, the Boks would be covered with a fully-fit flyhalf alternative on the bench.

‘I’m glad to see both Pat and Elton playing so well. I’m confident that when Elton gets his chance, he will not disappoint.

‘If there was any doubt regarding Elton’s condition, then he would have started. That way, if he broke down we would have had a 100% fit player on the bench who could take his place. You can’t have it the other way round.’

Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images

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Jon Cardinelli