Pat Lambie missed his opportunity to stake a claim for the Springbok No.10 jersey at Murrayfield at the weekend, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
This was Lambie’s chance to shine. The wet European conditions had stayed away for the Springboks’ Edinburgh encounter against an ordinary Scottish outfit fresh off a 51-22 hiding from New Zealand.
Their status as Six Nations wooden spoonists is a fair reflection of the quality of the current Scotland crop. Yet, despite their lowly ninth place on the IRB World Rankings (dropping to 10th after the weekend) and a six-day turn-around for the meeting with the Springboks, talk of another upset continued throughout the lead up to the match.
The conditions and the level of the opposition made for the ideal opportunity for the route one Boks to finally break the shackles and play a more enterprising brand of rugby.
They certainly attempted to play a more attacking game, in the first 50 minutes at least, as they adopted a ball-in-hand approach.
However, the offence hardly involved the outside backs with fleet-footed outside centre Juan de Jongh given just a solitary opportunity to showcase his elusive running in 80 minutes of Test rugby in dry conditions.
Instead, the focus remained on the forwards bashing over the gainline duly followed by Jean de Villiers continuing the go-forward with predictable straight running from No.12.
It was another ugly performance lacking creativity and consistency that left the Springboks still striving for an 80-minute performance as they head into the 12th and final Test of the year against England at Twickenham on Saturday.
Lambie’s lackadaisical showing at No.10 topped the lengthy list of Murrayfield disappointments. For all his natural ability and flair, the 22-year-old exhibited none of those qualities against the Scots.
Dan Carter had bamboozled Greg Laidlaw to no end less than a week prior. Lambie, in turn, attacked the line on just two occasions.
How much of a license he had been given or how restricted he was by Heyneke Meyer’s instructions is uncertain, but the fact remains that Lambie’s showing was eerily Morne Steyn-like.
It wasn’t the worst of flyhalf displays, but in terms of Lambie’s prodigious talents, it was a major let down and could jeopardise his place in the starting line-up for the big clash against England.
It’s no secret that Meyer rates Steyn and after another stuttering attacking effort at the weekend, the Bok mentor might fall back on the Bulls flyhalf to steer the ship against the old enemy.
Doing so would be a great injustice to Lambie and would strengthen the case of provincialism against Meyer considering the faith he showed in a dreadfully out-of-sorts Steyn before he finally axed the Bulls veteran.
Dropping Lambie for the key clash of the end-of-year tour would undermine one of the primary goals of the European excursion - establishing whether or not Lambie’s Test future lies at flyhalf.
If retained, Lambie would have to deliver the goods against England, either by proving he can play a tactical kicking game or by slicing the English defence to shreds.
Given Meyer’s mentality, Lambie’s mission will be the former; to play according to a no-frills, territory-based strategy to give the Boks field position from where they’ll look to inflict damage with their driving maul and grinding pick-and-go style.
If he fails the Twickenham acid test, Lambie stands to lose his position in the pivot pecking order if not fall out of the flyhalf race completely. Given the opportunity, Lambie has to run with it. His role in the Bok composition depends on it.
By Quintin van Jaarsveld
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