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Play Pat at flyhalf

If you're reading this column because you think the headline is an indication I am calling on Heyneke Meyer to play Pat Lambie at flyhalf, I am sorry to disappoint.

The call is not to the Springbok coach, but to Sharks coach John Plumtree, who by playing Lambie at fullback for most of Super Rugby effectively ruled him out of consideration for the pivot position in Meyer’s team.

“What about Lambie?” was a whisper that came out of Durban when Meyer decided to entrust young Johan Goosen with the No 10 jersey after he finally accepted that Morne Steyn needed to be excluded from his team.

Well what about him? If he’s not playing flyhalf for his franchise or provincial team, you can hardly then push for him to play that position for his country. Sorry, but if there is one thing that Meyer definitely has right, it is his line that he is not going to play Lambie as a flyhalf if he is not playing there for his province.

So in answer to the incredulous email I received from someone who rates himself highly as a commentator on South African rugby but lives overseas, and asked how Meyer could possibly play Elton Jantjies and Zane Kirchner in key positions, I have to forward a question of my own – if you don’t play Jantjies, who do you play?

It can’t be Lambie if he is not playing there for his union, and frankly if you don’t know what Jantjies is capable of as a flyhalf, then it underlines the problems associated with being a critic on matters related to South African rugby when you live many thousands of kilometres away.

Had the person in question been at Soccer City this past Saturday he would have heard the rousing reception Jantjies received when he came onto the field. He would also have heard how the noise in the stadium reached a crescendo when he was called up to take a kick for goal.

The message in all that was that most South Africans who live here and have seen Jantjies play flyhalf for the Lions week in and week out during the Currie Cup and Super Rugby seasons know what his abilities are. He may play for a struggling union, but like Lambie did in 2010, he helped spearhead a Currie Cup title for that union in 2011.

And the respected coaches who have worked with him, such as former All Black mentor John Mitchell, as well I am told as former Bok World Cup-winning flyhalf Butch James, are quite emphatic that he is good enough to play international rugby.

There are still aspects of his game that Jantjies needs working on, but then you would say the same about both Lambie and Goosen. The last mentioned is definitely the man for the future and for the 2015 World Cup, but all the flyhalves are a work in progress and Jantjies, apart from his playing ability, seems to have a good head on his shoulders. As the pack had simply run out of puff by the second half, he can’t be blamed for the defeat at Soccer City.

My backing of Jantjies is a change from a year ago. After what Lambie did for the Sharks in 2010, I thought he was the business. But if the Sharks really rate Lambie highly as a potential match-winning flyhalf, they should not be playing anyone else ahead of him, particularly when Louis Ludik has shown that he is as good as any fullback currently playing in that position in this country.

So if South African rugby is going to gain anything from a sudden full-strength snippet of Currie Cup that frankly is counter-productive to the Springboks and the national good, let’s see Lambie play flyhalf in these remaining weeks.

It looks as though injury is going to force Goosen to miss the end of year tour, and unless Meyer goes back to Steyn or to Peter Grant, who I am also starting to change my mind about now that I am seeing what the Boks might need to become more of an attacking force, that really does leave only Jantjies.

Jantjies says he is ready, I believe he is ready, and deep down I think the same of Lambie. But if the Lambie supporters want to give Meyer food for thought, their man has to wear the No 10 for his province and do what he did so effectively in 2010. If he doesn’t, his capabilities will start becoming a myth rather than any sort of fact.

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