Lam­bie re­turn com­pli­cates is­sues

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

CAPE TOWN — The Sharks, strug­gling to keep up the pace in their quest for a Su­per Rugby play­off spot, have been boosted by the re­turn to fit­ness of fly­half Pa­trick Lam­bie.

A shoul­der in­jury on a pre-sea­son tour of France ruled the 25-year-old out of the first half of the cam­paign, but he is now fully re­cov­ered and has rather sur­pris­ingly been tipped to fea­ture in this Satur­day’s po­ten­tial ‘do-or-die’ clash against the Hurricanes in Dur­ban.

First Joe Pi­etersen and more re­cently Garth April have per­formed ad­mirably in Lam­bie’s ab­sence - the lat­ter par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive on the Sharks’ tour of New Zealand, but there is no doubt that Lam­bie’s pedi­gree and ex­pe­ri­ence is some­thing the Sharks are crav­ing as they look for a way back into the tour­na­ment.

Lam­bie need not be rushed back into ac­tion as April has shown enough prom­ise in re­cent weeks to avoid com­plete panic, but the sooner the 50-Test Spring­bok re­turns to his best, the bet­ter Gary Gold and the King’s Park faith­ful will feel about their chances.

Lam­bie’s re­turn also means that he comes into the reck­on­ing for a Spring­bok call-up ahead of the June Tests against Ire­land.

And that is where things get in­ter­est­ing.

Since mak­ing his Test de­but against Ire­land in 2010, Lam­bie has only started 17 times for the Boks.

Of those, just 10 have been in the No 10 jersey.

That is a star­tling statis­tic for a man who has long been tipped as one of the bright­est prospects in South African rugby.

Now in his sev­enth year as a Spring­bok, the last of those 10 starts at fly­half came against Ja­pan in that best-for­got­ten de­feat in Brighton at last year’s Rugby World Cup.

The Boks were 22-19 ahead when Lam­bie was re­placed by Han­dre Pol­lard, not that there’s any one player who emerged from that match with even a shred of dig­nity.

In his early days, there was debate as to whether Lam­bie was best suited to play­ing full­back or fly­half, and per­haps that un­cer­tainty has hurt his in­ter­na­tional ca­reer.

Now, though, there is a gen­eral ac­cep­tance at pro­vin­cial, Su­per Rugby and Spring­bok level that Lam­bie is a fly­half.

Former Bok coach Heyneke Meyer said as much, yet Lam­bie has al­ways slot­ted in be­hind, first Morne Steyn, and then Han­dre Pol­lard in the Spring­bok peck­ing order.

It’s hard to fault Meyer for back­ing Steyn in his prime or Pol­lard as his star was ris­ing, but the ef­fect it has had on Lam­bie is un­for­tu­nate.

With Steyn’s skill-set now too dated to see him back in the green and gold and Pol­lard out for the year with a hor­ror knee in­jury, Lam­bie is surely primed to fi­nally be given an ex­tended run in the Bok No 10 jersey.

But, once more, the path to the Boks is far from clear for the Sharks skip­per.

While Pol­lard and Lam­bie have been out of ac­tion, Lions fly­half El­ton Jan­tjies has been go­ing about his busi­ness in largely im­pres­sive fash­ion, guid­ing Jo­han Ack­er­mann’s men to top spot in their Africa Con­fer­ence 2 ahead of the Sharks.

He may have strug­gled in his side’s dis­as­trous 50-17 loss at home to the Hurricanes on Satur­day, but outside of that Jan­tjies has been the stand­out South African fly­half in Su­per Rugby in 2016.

Capped just twice by the Boks in 2012, Jan­tjies was also one of the form fly­halves in 2015 and was con­sid­ered un­lucky to miss out on the World Cup squad.

There are many who con­sider Jan­tjies’ omis­sion through­out 2015 — while an age­ing Morne Steyn was backed — as one of nu­mer­ous ex­am­ples of South African rugby not suc­ceed­ing in its re­spon­si­bil­ity to trans­form.

Should Jan­tjies be se­lected for the June Tests ahead of Lam­bie, though, there will be no doubts that it is a se­lec­tion based on merit.

He has been the stand­out fly­half this year and he is surely due an­other crack at in­ter­na­tional level, but what is al­ready a dif­fi­cult se­lec­tion poser sud­denly be­comes even more com­plex for new Bok coach Al­lis­ter Coet­zee.

With trans­form­ing the na­tional side Coet­zee’s pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity, can he re­ally af­ford to pick Lam­bie, short on Su­per Rugby game time this sea­son, ahead of a fit and in-form Jan­tjies?

The an­swer, un­der­stand­ably so, is prob­a­bly ‘no’.

And while that means that Jan­tjies will likely get his chance, it also means that Lam­bie will slot in be­hind yet an­other Spring­bok fly­half, set to make his 34th ap­pear­ance as a sub­sti­tute in his 51st Test.

Be­fore even think­ing about the Boks, Lam­bie must use what lit­tle time he has left be­fore June to prove his worth in Su­per Rugby.

That might help ex­plain why he is be­ing rushed back for the Hurricanes. — Sport24

Pa­trick Lam­bie

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