Springboks turn to gifted youngster Lambie to give side kick they need

Des Berry

COACH Heyneke Meyer mentioned the word 'kick' 24 times, in one form or another, at the announcement yesterday of the South African team to play Ireland. That is how central, even dominant, a factor it is to the Springboks' game plan.

Memories of Eddie O'Sullivan came flooding back when Meyer stressed how this is a "horses for courses" selection, opting for 22-year-old Patrick Lambie at out-half, keeping the experienced Morne Steyn on the bench as "an insurance policy" if Lambie's kicking deserts him.

"The biggest job for any coach is to take pressure off players. It is very nerve-wrecking kicking in front of 50,000 people," issued Meyer.

"If you kick badly, then the coach comes with more pressure. Patrick is 'in the zone' at the moment kicking-wise and that's why he got the nod."

The decisive factor was Lambie's excellence at his boot-to-ball work for the Sharks in his last three matches in the Currie Cup at a time when Steyn was struggling to find his form in this area.

"Patrick has got the inside track for this series. He still has to go and prove it at test match level," warned Meyer.

"I think we have lost most of our test matches through our kicking. Patrick has been kicking brilliantly lately in difficult conditions."

Meyer was the coach of the Leicester Tigers in a previous life, the English version of the Springboks, in terms of their pragmatic, forward-driven approach to the game.

In order to execute this aspect of the game, Meyer has turned away from the renowned Steyn -- he has played 41 times for his country -- towards the gifted Lambie to start at 10 for the first time for the Springboks.

"The coach has spoken to me and he has made it very clear what he expects of me, which is fantastic. So, we're both on the same page. Hopefully, I can bring the game that he wants me to," said the Springboks starlet.

Lambie is viewed in rugby circles as closer to Johan Goosen in style than Steyn, a talented ball player who first looks to create, then to punt. He challenges this opinion.

"I think some people are under the wrong impression. I don't want to just run everything. I enjoy playing to space. If the space is in behind, I will kick it," he said.

Perhaps the one area where Ireland will entertain a decisive physical edge will be through the fly-half channel where Ireland's playmaker Jonathan Sexton brings a size advantage against the 5'8", 13 stones Lambie.


What does Lambie think of Sexton? "He is an outstanding player. I think he has proven himself at international level. We will have our hands full with him," he said.

While Lambie is not the biggest specimen, he does have a platoon of hulking minders to protect what Meyer has called their "quarterback".

"It is great to have guys who are so big and strong around me. It makes things so much easier and everyone's ankles are similar sizes," smiled Lambie.

"We play against that size of players in the southern hemisphere on a regular basis. You've got to be able to make your tackles, especially at fly-half.

"It seems to be the channel everyone attacks these days. I don't mind making tackles. I quite enjoy it actually," he said, with all the charm of a choirboy.

Ireland and South Africa share unwanted common ground. They were both beaten by New Zealand in their last internationals. Only one can make amends.

"In front of their home crowd, they will be up for it and wanting to prove a point. We will have to be at our best. Both teams are looking to make things right.

"I think you can expect fireworks from the Irish and from South Africa."

South Africa (v Ireland): Z Kirchner; JP Pietersen, J Taute, J de Villiers (capt), F Hougaard; P Lambie, R Pienaar; T Mtawarira, A Strauss, J du Plessis, E Etzebeth, J Kruger, F Louw, W Alberts, D Vermeulen.