Lam­bie top pick based on coach-cap­tain quirk

CityPress - - Sport - Simnikiwe Xabanisa .sports@city­press.co.za Fol­low me on Twit­ter @Simx­a­ban­isa

week ago, Spring­bok coach Al­lis­ter Coet­zee was asked which play­ers were in the run­ning to re­place Adri­aan Strauss as his cap­tain once he re­tires from in­ter­na­tional rugby at the end of this sea­son, as telegraphed a cou­ple of months ago.

The an­swer was open-ended: “I’ll use the time un­til next year’s in­com­ing tour to iden­tify the next cap­tain.”

It’s al­ways nice to know that some things never change in South African rugby. Why give a straight an­swer when you can ob­fus­cate things?

But then, this week, he an­nounced Pat Lam­bie as cap­tain of the Spring­bok XV to play in yes­ter­day’s un­capped match against the Bar­bar­ians.

The state­ment was at pains to point out that the ar­range­ment was a tem­po­rary one forced by the weight of Lam­bie’s 53 tests in a largely in­ex­pe­ri­enced side.

Yet, for all that, the util­ity back looks like he’ll be the first cab out of the taxi rank in a group that should also in­clude War­ren White­ley, Fran­cois Louw, Oupa Mo­hoje and, if he ever re­gains his 2014/15 form, Lood de Jager.

The thing is, Lam­bie was in the run­ning to lead the team be­fore Coet­zee went with a stop­gap mea­sure in Strauss for the se­ries against Ire­land.

And one has to ad­mit that, on the face of it, the de­ci­sion looks like an easy one.

Lam­bie – pos­sessed with the un­canny abil­ity to do the right thing at the right time – is the right age (26) if the Boks are look­ing for a cap­tain who’ll make it to the next World Cup; has the afore­men­tioned 53 test caps; looks to have been groomed for the role from the womb; and for a con­ser­va­tive coach like Coet­zee, has lit­tle of the mer­cury that has seen El­ton Jan­tjies blow hot and cold in the green jersey.

An­other of his qual­i­ties is that he ap­par­ently loved koppe stamp prac­tice at school, which means he is tougher than his an­gelic looks sug­gest. He also once scored a dou­ble cen­tury bat­ting at eight for an Aus­tralian school as an ex­change stu­dent, mean­ing he doesn’t mind prov­ing peo­ple wrong when they un­der­es­ti­mate him.

But there are a cou­ple of ques­tions against his pos­si­ble el­e­va­tion to cap­tain: with a safety-first coach like Coet­zee, does the team need a leader who himself seems a touch on the bland side, and is Lam­bie guar­an­teed a place in the start­ing line-up at fly half or full­back?

Who would you pick as Bok cap­tain and why?

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While the gen­eral un­der­stand­ing of the coach and cap­tain re­la­tion­ship is that the lat­ter is an ex­ten­sion of the men­tor on the field, suc­cess­ful South African teams have al­ways had a leader who com­ple­ments the coach from a sub­tle point of dif­fer­ence rather than sim­i­lar­i­ties.

Fran­cois Pien­aar was the diplo­mat to Kitch Christie’s blunt ut­ter­ances; Gary Te­ich­mann was the strong silent type to the gar­ru­lous Nick Mal­lett; and John Smit was a leader of men to Jake White’s school­teacher ap­proach, and a calm­ing in­flu­ence to the ex­citable Peter de Vil­liers.

The ob­vi­ous can­di­date to be Coet­zee’s cap­tain would have been the di­rect and de­ci­sive for­mer Storm­ers man Duane Ver­meulen.

But be­ing 30 al­ready, hav­ing a phys­i­cal play­ing style that fre­quently takes its toll on his body, and club com­mit­ments that ap­pear to be be­com­ing more im­por­tant than the na­tional cause mean he’s likely to be over­looked.

As for whether Lam­bie can be as­sured of a place in the start­ing line-up, the an­swer is a def­i­nite no as he has never re­ally been the incumbent for the Boks at ei­ther of his pre­ferred po­si­tions – fly half or full­back.

But be­lieve it or not, his­tory sug­gests that South Africa’s suc­cess­ful cap­tains post-iso­la­tion were al­ways not sure of their place in the start­ing XV.

Pien­aar had his Ti­aan Strauss cross to bear, Te­ich­mann had Bob Skin­stad’s swal­low dive hang­ing over his head and Smit had the Bis­marck du Plessis sit­u­a­tion to con­tend with.

So even with a hunt­ing pack like Jan­tjies, Han­drè Pol­lard or who­ever else makes the Super Rugby grade next sea­son af­ter his Bok place, Lam­bie may well be our best can­di­date for cap­tain based on a strange quirk in our his­tory.

The catch is that nei­ther White­ley, Mo­hoje, Louw or De Jager are con­sid­ered cer­tain­ties at the mo­ment ei­ther.

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