A year is a long time in sport – just ask Pat Lambie. A lot can happen over the course of a season, but the Sharks and Springbok super-sub pivot/full-back has spent much of that time on some of the world’s most scenic benches.
Auckland, he was there. Brisbane, he watched that one. Newlands, Ellis Park, Loftus, add them on, too. And in all that time, he would have done well to accumulate just about a half’s worth of international rugby-playing minutes. The ring-rust was evident in the last round of Currie Cup fixtures.
And yet, Lambie had ended 2012 with the Bok No 10 jumper on his back. Yes, he may have been stifled by a game plan that paid homage to the Bulls mantra of kick, kick and kick again, but at least he wasn’t twiddling his thumbs on a frozen bench.
And then, in waltzed the wunderkind, Johan Goosen, who immediately caught the eye of Heyneke Meyer. Lambie and Elton Jantjies suddenly became yesterday’s news, as Meyer announced that he had found the man he was looking for.
The problem with Goosen, of course, is that he is South African rugby’s version of Graeme Smith when it comes to injuries. They call the Proteas skipper “Poppadum Fingers”, and it has nothing to do with his fondness of a good curry.
Perhaps Goosen should be dubbed the “Marie Kid”, because his undeniably talented frame has all the durability of a butter biscuit being dunked in a cup of tea. Every sport has them, and while Smith can layer his batting gloves with more padding, Goosen can’t do the same for his body.
This means he will always be in and out of the game, biding his time in doctors’ waiting rooms, and leaving Meyer stranded, looking for Plan B. Morne Steyn stepped up in the Rugby Championship, but there is that lingering feeling that the Boks should be getting more out of that potent backline.
This is where ball-players like Lambie and Jantjies ought to be viable options, if we are to be serious about hanging on to the coat-tails of the All Black machine. But, the reality for the sacrificial Lambie is that he hasn’t been able to stake a claim in Goosen’s absence, because he hasn’t been playing.
Yes, he has added a few more Test caps, but they are the “cheap” cameos that we often see in meaningless football internationals. While Meyer doesn’t hesitate to switch his front row after 50 minutes, he seems to treat the rest of the substitutes like an afterthought, chucking them in with five minutes to go.
What can any rugby player do in five minutes, besides make a mistake that will set back their aspirations even further? It was telling, in the cauldron that Ellis Park was a fortnight ago, that the mob demanded Lambie come off the bench in a game where the Boks had to score tries to stay relevant.
Meyer finally relented, to the approval of the capacity crowd.
But, when did Lambie become a full-back in Meyer’s eye? Did we not hear the Bok coach clearly state that the Sharks man was to be considered as a flyhalf only?
Of course, we have seen this mismanagement happen to other “precocious talents” before. Frans Steyn was another who suffered for his versatility. He could kick, run, and locate space and, had that priceless commodity that is time under pressure.
He was still regarded as a big part of the South African rugby landscape, until he came back to Durban looking like a beached whale at the start of the year.
One would think it’s still too soon for Lambie to be considering chasing euros just yet. Having turned 23 this week, he will know that there is still plenty of time to catch Meyer’s eye.
Then, perhaps, he can convince him that he can be more than a well-mannered cheerleader with dandruff-free hair. - Sunday Independent