Pat the likely starter in Dublin
Heyneke Meyer is not giving anything away but the smart money should be on Patrick Lambie being rewarded for his impressive late season form by being given the Springbok No 10 jersey in Dublin on Saturday.
With Johan Goosen, the man who took over as the first choice pivot from Morne Steyn at the end of the recent Castle Rugby Championship, not on tour because of injury, much of the speculation in the build-up to the showdown with Ireland has centred on who will play flyhalf.
With journalists unable to be present for the meaty parts of the Springbok training sessions in Cape Town last week it was impossible to say who Meyer will back, Lambie or Elton Jantjies. The latter, who plays flyhalf for the Lions, finished the recent test against the All Blacks at FNB Stadium after Goosen limped off in the first half.
However, word from around the camp last week was that Meyer was give Lambie his starting opportunity, and it was also the indication that came from the coach himself in one of the press conferences.
“Pat has done what I have asked of him by improving his tactical kicking and I was really impressed with his play at flyhalf in the Currie Cup. I will definitely be looking at giving him a chance to stake a claim there,” said Meyer.
The Springbok coach added that he had been open with Lambie on where he stood and what he needed to do. While Lambie’s place in the pecking order was second choice fullback and third choice flyhalf, behind Morne Steyn and Goosen, that appears to have changed, with Meyer indicating that Jaco Taute, used at centre in the home leg of the Rugby Championship, would be used at fullback on this tour.
Meyer has also said that he needs to whittle his flyhalves down to two next year, and has made no bones about the fact that this tour is a bit of a high-noon shootout between the No 10s to see who will join Goosen in the group next year.
The coach has always given the impression that he sees Goosen as the long-term choice, in other words the man he has in mind to wear the No 10 at the next Rugby World Cup in England in 2015.
The Boks are in Dublin preparing for the clash with the Irish, who have themselves been plagued by injury in the build-up, with flanker Steven Ferris the latest withdrawal from the game.
“I think we have the best group of flyhalves that this country has been able to produce in over 10 years, but they are all so young,” said Meyer.
“What I want from Elton and Pat on this tour is to show me they can play the conditions, that they can be tactically astute, the equal of American football’s quarterback. I know they’re great runners with the ball, but they need to control the game in all conditions.”
Meyer said he knew Steyn would soon be back to his best, but he wanted to see what the other players could do. Apart from the experience factor, which really should fall away when the player is so patently not at his best, there is no logical reason to recall Steyn at this stage as the only game he has played since being dropped was the Currie Cup semifinal for the Blue Bulls against the Sharks, and he was still short of his best there.
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So it looks like it will be one of Lambie or Jantjies to start, with Lambie the more likely judging from what has been said, and on form it would also be the right selection. Lambie was in scintillating form for the Sharks in the final weeks of the domestic season and while he was on the losing side in the Currie Cup decider, it was the lineouts, and not the flyhalf, that lost it for his team.
It will be interesting to see if Meyer opts to start with Taute at fullback first up or whether he eases him into the last line of defence.
If he has any doubts about the tactical kicking of his chosen flyhalf he might be hesitant to drop Zane Kirchner, who has been the best out-of-hand kicker for the Boks this year.
It seems unlikely though that he will continue with Taute at centre, so Juan de Jongh will be rewarded for his good performance in the Currie Cup final by reclaiming the Bok No 13 jersey that he hasn’t seen during Meyer’s time in charge.
Possible Bok team: Jaco Taute, JP Pietersen, Juan de Jongh, Jean de Villiers (capt), Francois Hougaard, Patrick Lambie, Ruan Pienaar, Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Juandre Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Beast Mtawarira.