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Rugby | Springboks

Bok coach wants Lambie’s strength

Good news for Springbok fans who want to see them grow their game and add more attacking dimensions to their game -- it may just be what coach Heyneke Meyer is looking for from the final match of the season against England at Twickenham on Saturday.

Although the Boks have won both games on tour so far, the reception from back home to those victories has apparently been luke-warm. Much as it was during much of Peter de Villiers’s stint as coach and even during the Jake White era before Eddie Jones got involved, it’s the play of the backs that has been the target of the most acerbic criticisms.

That is understandable, for the excellent touches shown on attack that contributed to tries in Meyer’s first series as coach against England seem so long ago. Since then it’s been mainly a case of flashes of Bryan Habana magic and the inexorable driving of the forwards that has netted the five pointers.

What’s wrong with the most recent part of this movie focusing on backline anonymity is that this tour has been played with Patrick Lambie at flyhalf. His selection was supposed to be a step forward to a more all-embracing style of play, much as that of Johan Goosen was before the home Castle Rugby Championship test against Australia. Lambie has shown some neat touches and good composure, but his presence hasn’t led to a rejuvenation of the backplay like some may have hoped.

Of course, it was clear at Murrayfield last week that the method against Scotland, at least initially, didn’t really place a strong emphasis on attacking back play. The strategy was to kick Scotland into the corners to blunt their attempts to get into the game by getting some front foot ball and the crowd behind them, as had been the case in both 2008 and 2010.

Had the plan developed from there as it should have, the “penetrate” part of the subdue and penetrate approach would surely have come to the fore.

But it didn’t because the Boks released pressure on the Scotland jugular and they attained the momentum that the South Africans had fought so hard to deny them in the early stages.

So instead of running riot in the last 30 minutes and thus enabling the backs to gain much needed confidence, the last half hour of the match was consigned to impressive but desperate defence. In that time Lambie, as had been the case in the first half in Dublin a week earlier, couldn’t make an impression simply because there was no ball to play with.


But Meyer has admitted that he may have expected more of Lambie’s attacking skills before that, and judging from the discourse at a press conference in London this week, it seems there might have been an acknowledgement from the coach that the Sharks flyhalf, in an attempt to give Meyer what he thinks he wants, is playing away from his strengths.

“One thing that has become obvious is that you don’t just run through players at this level,” said Meyer.

“I’ve had a long one-on-one with Patrick this week. I have told him that I want him to play his natural game. I thought he was a bit deep in his lining in the last few games, and that is not the usual way he plays.

“So I have told him that I want more attacking ability from him. He must go out there and get the backline going. I have been happy with the progress Patrick has made but we need another good performance from him on Saturday.”

Lambie getting licence to play it is his way is great news, provided of course the Boks get the ball on Saturday.

It might heap extra pressure on the young player to be so publicly thrust into responsibility for igniting the backs, but then pressure, and the role he is being expected to perform, is supposedly what being flyhalf is all about.

In terms of how much he has played this season, Lambie should be less stale than some of the other players who will be running onto Twickenham, and he can make the most of this final opportunity of 2012 to cement his place in Meyer’s plans for next year. He has already made progress, but maybe he still needs that big game that will erase any lingering doubts.

It will be a litmus test though for Lambie as kicking coach Louis Koen, defence coach John McFarland have all spoken about how what has been most noticeable since they graduated to this level is the difference in time and space that is available to the players on the field.

And while the games have been played in clear conditions so far on this tour, and Twickenham is expected to be dry on Saturday too, it hardly needs pointing out that the ball does tend to come back much slower from the breakdown here than it does in the southern hemisphere. It adds to the decision-making options the halfbacks need to take into consideration in the sense of having to decide whether to kick the ball or set up another phase in a quest for that rare but crucial and much needed quick ball.

The next World Cup will be played here in 2015 so Lambie can make a massive statement if he delivers what his coach is asking of him at Twickenham.


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