Jake White has promised to get the best out of Pat Lambie in 2014. The fulfilment of such a promise would be significant for the Springboks, writes JON CARDINELLI.
In recent seasons, Lambie has been criticised for his game-management; that is, his decision-making as well as the execution of his tactical kicking. In 2013, he wasn’t playing with confidence, and tended to stand too deep on attack.
These are the shortcomings that have been identified and addressed by the Sharks coaching staff in the pre-season. It is hoped that White can set things right, and that the once promising youngster will finally ascend to the next level of competence.
Last month, Saru announced that seven more players had been contracted to the national squad up to the end of 2015. Lambie was included, most notably as a ‘flyhalf/fullback’. It’s a description that tells you everything you need to know about his standing in the Bok side. Lambie is at this stage a utility player rather than a specialist.
In the build-up to the Test against Wales in Cardiff, Bok coach Heyneke Meyer said that Lambie should be prepared to play both flyhalf and fullback at the 2015 World Cup. The statement confirmed that Meyer still wasn’t sure of Lambie’s best position.
Meyer has long believed that Johan Goosen is the long-term solution at flyhalf. Goosen has all the natural abilities to be a success and didn’t look out of place when given his first chance to start in September 2012. Injuries have since prevented Goosen from receiving further opportunities at the highest level.
While Goosen has been denied the chance to improve, the Boks have managed to progress in his absence. This is no mean feat considering the attacking limitations of Morné Steyn.
Meyer has stated that he is loyal to performance. The pressure is now on Lambie to show how much he has improved
That said, Steyn has proved an invaluable member of the Bok side. After a forgettable 2012 season, Steyn bounced back in the 2013 Super Rugby tournament and then carried that form through to the Test season. If not for Steyn’s calm under pressure and accuracy in front of goal, the Boks would not have emerged with an 83% win record in 2013.
Barring injury, Goosen and Steyn will travel to the 2015 World as the two specialist flyhalf options. Lambie is good enough to warrant a place in that squad, if only as a back-up flyhalf and fullback.
That is how things stand at present. The status quo can, however, be challenged if Lambie spearheads a successful Sharks campaign.
Meyer has stated that he is loyal to performance, and that Super Rugby form does factor into national selection. The pressure is now on Lambie to show how much he has improved.
The Sharks should win the South African conference and represent this country’s best chance of an overall Super Rugby title. This season, Lambie will benefit from a platform provided by a Springbok-laden pack. He will thrive under the tutelage of White, who coached the Boks to a World Cup title in 2007 and the Brumbies to a Super Rugby final in 2013.
White has promised to play Lambie at No 10, and nowhere else. He has committed to helping the youngster refine his kicking game and to taking the ball flatter on attack.
White has recruited visual expert Sherylle Calder, who was part of White’s coaching staff when the Boks won the World Cup in 2007. Calder has been brought in to sharpen the Sharks’ skills, with special attention given to the team’s kickers.
In a recent conversation with the Bok coach, I asked Meyer how he felt about Calder’s recruitment and what it could mean for South African rugby. It’s my opinion that the move will boost the Boks as well as the Sharks, as the likes of Lambie and Frans Steyn will benefit from Calder’s input.
Meyer agreed wholeheartedly. He confirmed that there’s not enough time to coach players at Test level these days, particularly in an area as specialised as visual skills. Meyer was thrilled to see that two players who are a part of his plans are receiving due attention at their franchise.
Lambie now has a fantastic opportunity. A lot of time and effort has been spent on his game in the pre-season and now it’s up to him to put it all into practice. He needs to show Meyer that he has improved.
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