When the most humble man in the Sharks team says his team is a long way off playing to their potential despite hitting the ground running against the Bulls, it should be interpreted as a warning to their Super Rugby foes, beginning with the Hurricanes at Kings Park on Saturday.
And from the pivotal position of flyhalf, the unfailingly polite Patrick Lambie is in the ideal position to gauge his team’s performance.
He says he and his teammates are still getting used to “reading the music” that conductor Jake White has composed for the Sharks.
“The encouraging thing is that we feel we can improve a lot on the Bulls performance. We worked very hard in the pre-season on the systems and structures of how Jake wants to play but it is going to take a little time to execute them better, although four tries in the humidity of Durban was a nice way to start,” the 23-year-old says.
“Jannie du Plessis did some research into how often a try-scoring bonus point has been scored in a first-round match at Kings Park and he battled to find any cases,” added Lambie, whose famous baby face now has a string of stitches across the bridge of his nose, courtesy of a stray Bulls boot.
“From a backs perspective, we scored a great try from first phase play, which we were quite chuffed about,” he said. “But we had a few four-on-three opportunities, and even four-on-two opportunities that we didn’t capitalise on. In Super Rugby, you don’t get many opportunities where you have a numerical advantage, so we need to be more efficient.”
Lambie said the public backing given to him by the coach regarding him being the first-choice flyhalf for the season had been a pleasant boost.
“Jake wants me to ‘read the music’ and have a go when it’s on,” Lambie said. “He wants me to take charge and control and direct the forwards. I think if I can get better with that every week we’ll be in a good place. There is an outline of how Jake wants us to play, which is necessary at this level, but he’s big on making us react to what is in front of us.
“That means you need to know when it’s the right time to get the ball in your hands, to have a go, and when to kick,” the flyhalf continued. “We do have a licence to play what’s in front of us and to attack the space.”
Lambie says the physically imposing Francois Steyn at inside centre is a reassuring presence for him.
“Frans is a great player and it’s great to have a big, strong guy on my outside,” he said. “He plays with freedom and flair, which I think the whole squad feeds off, and so I’m really enjoying playing with Frans.
“We saw his skill with the boot when the he chipped perfectly for Odwa Ndungane’s try on Saturday,” Lambie added. “We’ve all been working really hard on our kicking skills. In Super Rugby you need to be tactical and get into the right areas of the field, and to put pressure on the opposition, and then convert that pressure into points. It’s a big part of the game nowadays and something we’ll continue to work on.”
Lambie said that the Hurricanes will provide a different challenge to that of the Bulls, and the home team are expecting a high-paced game from a team that has never had a problem scoring tries.
“They might well come with the philosophy of attacking at all costs,” he said. “They could run the ball from everywhere. They have some very dangerous backline players and some real game-breakers there.
“Their backline is littered with big, strong, fast ball players. So we’ll have to make sure of our one-on-one tackles and ensure we nullify their space.”