Lambie on a sharp upward graph
Patrick Lambie would like nothing more than to show that he has absorbed what he learned in defeat in last year’s Currie Cup final and in victory during the end of year tour by doing what his rival for the Springbok jersey, Morne Steyn, did to the Stormers last weekend.
Steyn, dropped by Heyneke Meyer towards the end of The Castle Rugby Championship after an indifferent run of form, was back to his best in the opening Vodacom Super Rugby match of the season at Loftus last weekend, with his tactical and goalkicking spearheading his team’s 25-17 win over the South African conference champions.
Lambie was in as good form for the Sharks the following day in their win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, with coach John Plumtree describing his tactical kicking and goalkicking as the ultimate difference between the two teams. He wasn’t quite the factor he would have wanted to be when his Sharks team were beaten by Western Province in the domestic decider last October, so he may have a bit of a score to settle with the Stormers.
At the very least, he says he learned things in that game last year that he wants to apply when his team kicks off their home season at Kings Park on Saturday.
“Their tactical kicking in the final last year was excellent and I did learn a lot from it. They won the territory game and they took the points on offer when they were in our half of the field,” said Lambie.
“They put over some drop-goals too. They ensured they won field position and then they converted. Last week the Bulls’ tactical kicking was on song against the Stormers and as a result of that they won the game. So hopefully we can do something similar.”
However, Sharks coach John Plumtree reminded the media of what it took for WP to blunt the Sharks pivot the last time they met, and he made it clear that a lot of his pre-season work on the lineout throwing and communication has been directed at avoidance of a repeat performance.
“It was a win-win situation for them in last year’s final as they could roll the ball out at will without fearing surrendering position, that’s how dominant their lineout was on the day,” said Plumtree.
“It was all positive for them when it came to the kicking game, they could try things without it being a risk. They could happily kick the ball out and there was a better than even chance of them winning it back at the lineouts. We simply cannot afford to have that again, which is why I was pleased that hookers Craig Burden and Kyle Cooper threw beautifully in Bloemfontein to show that our off-season work is paying off.”
Plumtree said after the Bloemfontein game that Lambie had benefitted from the extra work put in by the Bok management on him during the end of season tour, when his field kicking and decision making came under particular scrutiny, and he repeated it at the Durban press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
“Playing international rugby in northern hemisphere conditions and the work that was done on his kicking game has provided an enormous boost. We have seen it in the pre-season. His decision making is better too,” he said.
“Pat is going really well at the moment and the real challenge in this country at the moment is for a flyhalf to establish himself. Since the Naas Botha days there has been a lot of pressure and focus on the position. And you cannot underestimate the importance of tactical kicking as well as goalkicking. It was the difference in the scoreline this past week.
“Pat is working really hard and if he can avoid injuries we will have a much better product by the end of the Super Rugby season, and that will have benefits for Springbok rugby too. But the forwards have a big responsibility to ensure that he gets the ball he needs.”
Ironically, perhaps the northern hemisphere conditions were easier for Lambie to handle than what he anticipates at this time of year at his home ground. There is rain predicted for the weekend, but even if it doesn’t rain, Lambie reckons the humidity turns Kings Park clashes into wet weather matches.
“The ball is more slippery when it’s humid than when it’s raining. But last year it rained more often than not when we played big games,” said Lambie.
Those wet weather matches would have prepared Lambie for the tour, but northern conditions do pose their own challenge, and there was the pressure of playing for his right to be considered the first choice Bok pivot in what has developed into a four way battle involving Lambie, Johan Goosen, Elton Jantjies and Steyn.
“Hopefully I’ve grown a lot through my experience of playing flyhalf on the end of year tour,” he said.
“I feel like I’ve got a better understanding of the game now, when to run and when to kick, how to look for space behind the opposition players instead of space in front of them. Working with (Springbok kicking coach) Louis Koen was great for me. He challenged us every week and got us doing different things. He worked a lot on the mental side, which helped me.
“I’ve been in contact with him in the early part of the year and I have been working on the drills he gave me. It’s also been great to play with Frans Steyn. He has great skills and now also tremendous leadership ability, and when we get into trouble I can pass the ball to him and he will kick it 60 metres.
“It’s nice to be able to focus on one condition, and while I quite enjoyed the little bit of space I was presented with when I played fullback for a part of last week’s game, it was nice to be able to concentrate on flyhalf in the pre-season as I really want to make the position mine.”