Lambie to get his chance at pivot
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has dangled a carrot for Patrick Lambie on the forthcoming tour of Ireland, Scotland and England by saying this is his chance to play his way into his plans as one of the country's leading flyhalves.
Meyer says that he wants to go forward with two flyhalves from next year, and says that Lambie will get a chance on this three-test tour to nail down a place as one of those pivots as he builds towards the 2015 World Cup in England.
That should please the many Lambie supporters who have been upset that Meyer hasn’t made much use of their man other than as a bench player so far during his tenure as the national mentor.
Up to now Lambie has been used exclusively at fullback, and mainly from the bench, with Zane Kirchner being Meyer's preferred No 15.
But with Meyer now confirming that Jaco Taute will be used in his preferred position in the last line of defence rather than as an outside centre, it appears that Meyer is backing Lambie as a flyhalf now that the Sharks star has sent out a reminder of his ability to play the position in the latter stages of the recently completed Currie Cup season.
The national coach says he has been impressed with what he saw of Lambie in the three games he played as the Sharks No 10 after returning to provincial duty from The Castle Rugby Championship.
Most significantly, he believes that Lambie has made the improvements that he was asked to make.
“I have always been upfront with Pat on where he stands and what he is required to do to be part of the starting team,” said Meyer at a press conference in Cape Town on Wednesday.
“For me it is very important at test level that your flyhalf be a good tactical kicker. We saw in the last rounds of the Currie Cup how crucial that is.
"I wasn’t impressed with Pat’s tactical kicking before and I asked him to work on that aspect. He showed me in the Currie Cup that he has done the necessary work and I have been very impressed.”
While not coming out and saying that Lambie would be a part of his starting team when the tour kicks off against Ireland at Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday week, Meyer did say he would be getting his chance to stake a claim at flyhalf.
LOOKING FORWARD TO 2015 WORLD CUP
“The aim of this tour is two-fold – we need to try and win every test, but we also need to start looking forward up through to the World Cup. We saw in the Currie Cup final that the team that defends the best and has the best tactical kicking wins (in play-off matches).
"He is tried and tested at Super Rugby level but I want to go forward with two flyhalves from here and I want to use this opportunity to see what Pat can do at this level.”
Of course Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies completed the recent Castle Rugby Championship test against the All Blacks at Nasrec after Johan Goosen was injured, so he must be in strong contention to start in Dublin.
But don’t bet against Meyer rotating his flyhalves on this trip. He also has the off-form Morne Steyn, who he rates highly in his group.
Free Stater Goosen, because of the billing he was given as a youngster and the fact that Meyer has often spoken of his immense potential for 2015, must be favoured to be one of the two flyhalves Meyer will be backing next year.
So this tour is essentially a kind of high-noon shoot-out between Lambie, Steyn and Jantjies for the other position.
What does seem likely is that Lambie will specialise in the position – at least for now.
Meyer has always rated Taute, who like fellow Lions player Jantjies is headed to the Stormers for the next Super Rugby season on a loan deal, as a promising fullback, and after blooding him against the Wallabies and All Blacks as an outside centre, he looks set to return to that position and must be favoured to start in the No 15 at Aviva Stadium.
“I would love to see Jaco at the back. I think he offers something different, and I would like to give him a chance as a No 15,” said Meyer.
“I do see him as the future at 15, and I have told him that is the position where I see him playing for the Boks. It was just that we had a few injury problems before so I tried him at centre.
With Bryan Habana now injured we might still now have problems with cover for outside centre, so it is still a position he will back up, but I see him as a fullback.”
That also suggests that Western Province No 13 Juan de Jongh may now be the favourite to join his Stormers teammate, and Bok skipper, Jean de Villiers, in the midfield.
“Juan is a proven player with a lot of ability and we saw that in the final. Currie Cup level is a different level to test rugby, but we have seen him play well in Super Rugby as well. He and Jean know each other well and have a good understanding,” said the Bok coach.
De Villiers meanwhile was still set to undergo a fitness test late on Wednesday. The Boks were due to train at Newlands as they start their build-up to the tour, and although team doctor Craig Roberts said that De Villiers has made good progress from the hamstring injury that kept him out of the Currie Cup knock-outs, he will still be watched anxiously when he participates in a full training session for the first time since his injury.
“He has run with the WP physios and I am pleased with the progress he has made but it will depend on how he goes later,” said Roberts about De Villiers’s availability to tour.
Both Francois Louw and Adriaan Strauss have been cleared to play in next week’s Dublin test should they be selected.