Pressures pile up for Lambie

2012-11-10 00:00

THE Irish are joking that their team’s new black jerseys will put the wind up the Springboks in their international at Lansdowne Road in Dublin tonight.

The Irish have swapped their traditional green for black, but hit by injuries and fielding an untried pack, it is unlikely to be enough and they appear pale imitations of the All Blacks, the Springboks’ most famous rivals.

Much of the talk in the build-up to this Test has been about new Springbok flyhalf Pat Lambie and coach Heyneke Meyer has unfairly, perhaps unwittingly, added to the pressures on the young Sharks flyhalf.

One cannot escape the feeling that a reluctant Meyer was press-ganged into dropping out-of-touch Morné Steyn during the Rugby Championship and now he is giving Lambie “his chance” to prove that he is “tactically aware”.

Meyer has now also added Morné Steyn to the bench “as insurance” which is hardly a show of confidence in Lambie.

There is a sink-or-swim element to Lambie’s selection. If Meyer genuinely wanted to ease the young Lambie into Test rugby, he could hand the goal-kicking duties to Ruan Pienaar. The prolific Ulster scrumhalf is the form kicker in Ireland at present and will be playing in familiar surrounds and conditions. Local observers cannot understand why he will not be the Boks’ first-choice goal kicker.

What does seem obvious is that with all this talk of tactical appreciation and territory — and with Meyer (and Morné Steyn) breathing down his neck — Lambie will kick more than is his wont. And it would be unfortunate if his attacking instincts become bogged down in team strategy and runners like JP Pietersen are ignored.

While the Springbok focus is on Lambie, the Irish players regard Pienaar as the major threat.

Irish wing Andrew Trimble is in awe of the South African scrumhalf.

“He’s just chilled out, the most relaxed man I’ve ever met,” Trimble said this week of his Ulster team-mate. “He does the right thing 99 percent of the time.

“He’s very composed. He performs very well under pressure and does the right thing more often than not. We have to place their decision-makers under a lot of pressure, put them on the back foot and slow down their ball.

“We have to ask big questions of Ruan and see if he remains calm under the pressure.”

The Irish, backed by their home crowd and following their 60-0 thumping from the All Blacks in their last Test in June, will come out snorting, desperate to match the Boks in the physical contest. But whether they have the firepower to keep troubling the muscular Boks for 80 minutes is doubtful.

The Irish have lost their two former British Lions captains, in centre Brian O’Driscoll and lock Paul O’Connell and Jamie Heaslip will lead the team for the first time. Their pack has been hit particularly hard with the loss of Sean O’Brien, who will be missed at the breakdown, Stephen Ferris, O’Connell and Rory Best.

The Springboks are also missing some eight or nine first-choice selections, but, as Irish coach Declan Kidney pointed out this week, they have depth to their pool of players and Meyer’s new-look pack has settled in well during the rugby championship.

Meyer said the Boks were anticipating a bruising contest.

“I expect an unbelievable challenge from the Irish. They are a well-balanced side and, even though they are missing a number of their more experienced players, their youngsters are good.

“I watched their games against New Zealand and they were, in a sense, unlucky in the second Test. You don’t go there and perform like that (Ireland only lost the first Test 22-19) if you’re a bad team.”

Heaslip says the Irish know what to expect from the South Africans.

“The Springboks are pretty confrontational and make no bones about running at or over you. They look to provide nice quick ball to their backs from set or general play. They can also punish you from penalties 50 metres out.

“We don’t like losing in our back garden and it will be a full house. The place will be rocking and we want to give the Irish people something to cheer about.”

The Boks have not had a good run in Dublin, losing three of their last four Tests at Lansdowne Road, but their forward power, the physicality of Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw and Eben Etzebeth, should prove too much for the spirited Irish.

Still, you can take absolutely nothing in this game for granted ... just ask the Sharks and John Plumtree.

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