WP coach agog over classy Lambie
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer might have ended up having an interesting chat with Allister Coetzee had the current Western Province mentor agreed to his request to take up the position of national assistant earlier this year.
Over one player in particular, Patrick Lambie, they would surely have had a severe disagreement.
While Meyer told the media before the international season started that he rated Lambie as only his second-best fullback and third best flyhalf, Coetzee has always been adamant that the young Natalian is a world-class player who can do the business on the highest stage.
He even went on record before last year’s World Cup in New Zealand saying that were he the Springbok coach, he would start with Lambie at No 10.
There is good reason for Coetzee’s high regard for the versatile Sharks player.
Apart from the fact that he was a former Bok backline coach and is an astute judge of talent at the back, he and his team have been hurt by Lambie before.
The 2010 Currie Cup final in Durban was decided by Lambie’s flashes of genius in the opening salvos and then by his calm big-match composure later on.
And while he was trying hard at a press conference in Bellville on Monday evening not to isolate Sharks individuals as special threats, and he is probably right in saying that the Durbanites just have so much impressive depth all-round that it would be foolish to do so, he left no doubt that he sees Lambie as the key to Saturday’s decider in Durban.
Stop Lambie and you have some chance of stopping the Sharks. Fail to stop him and your chances of Currie Cup success aren’t just slipping down a precipitous path into Durban harbour, they’re already sunk 10 metres under the water.
EXTRA TIME ON THE BALL
“There is no denying that Pat Lambie is a very special player indeed, one of those really classy players who stand out because of the extra time they have on the ball and their ability to win matches for their team,” said Coetzee.
“I’ve always rated Lambie, ever since I saw him first play. He is an excellent flyhalf, he has all the attributes for the position, and he has shown that since returning to the position since coming back from the Springboks.
"For someone like him, moving back to flyhalf is like getting back onto a bicycle. You never lose the knack of knowing how to do it.
“But I have been amazed at how strongly he has made his point with the opportunities he has been given in the last two matches for the Sharks. He has probably exceeded expectations. Against both Griquas and then against the Bulls he was outstanding.”
Reminded that 12 months ago he had said Lambie should be the Bok flyhalf, Coetzee just smiled.
“My opinion might not be that important, but he is a well rounded player. Lambie had a blinder in the 2010 final against us (where he scored 25 of the Sharks’ 30 points), but he is such a gifted player. Once he sees an opportunity, he will take it.”
So with Lambie looming as the same sort of influence on this final as Naas Botha used to be back in the days when he orchestrated matters in the light blue No 10 of Northern Transvaal, can he be stopped?
He can be, and Coetzee hasn’t forgotten that the Stormers managed to do the trick in Super Rugby fixtures against the Sharks in the 2011 season.
It all comes down in the end to that old cliché – get on top in the forward battle, and the influence of the general is significantly diminished.
“It’s all about placing him under pressure, and to do that you have to get on top of the pack that is playing in front of him,” said Coetzee.
“We saw even with Dan Carter when he played at Newlands that when he was put under pressure he didn’t look good. Anyone can be forced into mistakes if forced to play under pressure.
"But Lambie is cool, calm and collected. It’s going to be a big ask and that is a very strong pack of forwards that he plays behind.”
What amazes about Lambie, and Coetzee has noted this, is his ability to bring out his best in the biggest games, the ones that really matter.
He did it in the 2010 final, again when playing fullback in the 2011 Super Rugby decider against the Bulls at Loftus, again at fullback in a losing cause in the World Cup quarterfinal and at flyhalf in last week’s semifinal in Durban, where there was so much focus on his supposed personal duel with Morne Steyn.
“The way he performs is the sign of a world-class player, that ability to produce in the big games is a sign of class, and that is why he is such a threat.
"But we cannot focus on Lambie only. If we do that we will miss Lwazi Mvovo going over and scoring in the corner,” he smiled.
If WP do somehow succeed in forcing Lambie to play under pressure, thus blunting his influence, it may arrest some of the momentum that the Lambie supporters have gathered over these past two weeks.
But arguably he has already done enough to suggest he should be strongly in contention to wear the Bok flyhalf jersey ahead of Elton Jantjies, and even suggesting that maybe Morne Steyn can play ahead of him would open that person to ridicule.
Meyer must surely see that in Lambie he has a player who has no weaknesses – he is a great decision-maker, a strong kicker out of hand, asks questions of opposing defenders, is a sound distributor and link, kicks his goals under pressure, and undeniably has the temperament for top rugby.
In short, if Lambie is not selected, serious questions will have to be asked of the vision and ability of the national coach.