Pat Lambie remains an underutilised backline weapon for the Springboks, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
This is not a pro-Lambie or anti-Handré Pollard assertion. By the looks of it, Pollard will be the man entrusted with the No 10 jersey at the World Cup, and there can be no quibbles there.
By and large, the youngster has been a revelation since making the step up to senior level, and he has brought a different dimension to the Boks’ attack with his willingness to take the ball flat and to the line.
Pollard endured an indifferent day out against Argentina last Saturday, from losing the ball softly in contact to miscueing a couple of kick-offs and touch finders.
Costly and concerning errors they may be, but there’s certainly no reason to suggest the 21-year-old will be incapable of learning from his errant ways and remedying such inaccuracies before the World Cup.
Yet, regardless of the perfect art of hindsight, Pollard really shouldn’t have been the man starting at flyhalf against Argentina.
Besides the fact he had to go through concussion protocols in the week of the Test, Pollard had started the first three matches of the international season, featuring against the World XV, Wallabies and All Blacks.
At last week’s team announcement, Heyneke Meyer admitted there had been plenty of consideration given to the team’s backline composition, with Morné Steyn coming close to selection, while Lambie had also been a strong contender for a starting berth.
In the end, considering the alterations as Jean de Villiers returned at outside centre and Jesse Kriel moved to wing, Meyer opted for continuity with his 9-10-12 combination.
It was the benefit of continuity in certain key combinations that Meyer desperately hoped would contribute to a winning performance. He, more than anyone, knew the weight of public expectation after back-to-back losses against the Wallabies and All Blacks.
It meant possible experimentation had to be sacrificed as the need for victory in the last Test before the World Cup took precedence.
And yet the Boks produced an almost inexplicably lethargic performance, and not only was the Test lost, but so was the opportunity to provide some players with one last extended Test outing before the World Cup.
Lambie, as he has so often done during his 43-Test career, came on with too much to do, with too little time.
The 24-year-old did finish last year as the starting flyhalf for the Boks’ final three Tests, but unfortunately a neck injury ruled him out of much of the Vodacom Super Rugby season. As a result he perhaps had too much lost ground to make up as the international season rolled around.
Yet after proving his fitness with appearances off the bench against the World XV, Wallabies and All Blacks, Lambie deserved an extended run against the Pumas.
In his preferred position, and on his home ground to boot, would he really have let the Boks down? I doubt it.
At this stage of the Boks’ World Cup preparations, there is no doubt that Pollard and Lambie will know exactly where they stand. Regardless of who started against Argentina, they are sure to have a pretty good idea of their likely roles at the World Cup.
But surely it would have still been healthy for Lambie to enjoy an opportunity to produce an 80-minute performance at flyhalf, if not only to keep Pollard on his toes, but to regain match fitness and confidence should he be pressed into a frontline role at the World Cup.
As one will recall, injuries meant that the All Blacks required the services of their fourth-choice flyhalf to win the last World Cup.
Lambie is likely to start against Argentina in Buenos Aires this Saturday, but it’s unfortunate that he hasn’t had another opportunity this season to really send out a competitive reminder about his ability to make meaningful contributions as more than just a versatile impact player.
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