Pat Lambie’s form, fitness and leadership will be crucial to the Sharks’ cause during the 2016 Vodacom Super Rugby season, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
The Sharks’ struggles in 2015 have been well documented – an 11th-place finish in Super Rugby and failure to reach the Currie Cup play-offs. Enough said.
With that in mind, and considering the recent departure of Boks Bismarck du Plessis, Willem Alberts, Frans Steyn, Jannie du Plessis and Pieter-Steph du Toit, it’s understandable that the Sharks will head into the 2016 season without the weight of extensive expectation. Yet that, in itself, could work in their favour.
Lest we forget, one of the major problems during the Sharks’ 2015 Super Rugby campaign revolved around their misfiring leadership group. Prior to the start of last year’s campaign, the Sharks named a leadership ‘team’ headed up by Bismarck du Plessis, but which also included Lambie, Jean Deysel, Frans Steyn and Tera Mtembu.
While Du Plessis seemed like the obvious captaincy choice at the time, it became quickly apparent that the leadership role wasn’t the most natural fit for him, and his performances on the field clearly suffered.
A disciplinary blowout in a round-six match against the Chiefs then resulted in a month-long ban, with Steyn receiving a red card in the same fixture, which also ended in a suspension.
Deysel briefly took over the captaincy, but then found himself suspended for another act of foul play, while Lambie’s captaincy reign was cut short around the same time when he suffered a serious neck injury.
Meanwhile, Mtembu, as the remaining member of the original leadership group, was out of action with a knee injury, leaving Marco Wentzel to stand in as skipper – a role that he retained until the end of the campaign.
It’s understandable then that the Sharks will be looking for some calmness and composure when it comes to their leaders this season, and Lambie, in that regard, is the ideal candidate.
While it’s early days yet, one would imagine his leadership is likely to draw comparisons with that of former Sharks great Gary Teichmann, who was a quietly spoken but extremely well-respected captain.
Lambie, at 25 years of age, has developed as a leader and as a player over time, with his natural feel for the game and astute ‘rugby brain’ having been widely acknowledged by coaches and teammates.
However, his last two Super Rugby seasons have been significantly disrupted by injury, and so from both a team and personal perspective, it’s vital for the Sharks that he remains injury free this year.
The Sharks are a team in transition, with new faces and voices among the playing and coaching group, but as captain, Lambie will need to fulfil an influential role not just on the field, but off it as well.
In hindsight, the Sharks would probably admit that a number of their senior players (many of whom might have had World Cup ambitions in the back of their mind) didn’t quite live up to their reputations and expectations last year.
For the Sharks to be successful with a new-look squad this season, the team’s influential leaders and seniors need to accept the onus of responsibility in driving the Sharks back in the right direction during what desperately needs to be a redemptive campaign.
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