The year of the Lambieghini

2011-01-05 00:00

YOUNG players Keegan Daniel, Willem Alberts, Lwazi Mvovo and Charl McLeod blossomed in an excellent Currie Cup season for the Sharks but 2010 really was the year of the Lambieghini.

The 19-year-old Patrick Lambie started the year as one of the reserves in John Plumtree’s Super 14 squad. By the end of the season he was a Springbok and the hero of the Sharks’ Currie Cup final win.

Lambie watched from the sidelines as the Sharks lost their first five Super 14 games in a nightmare start to their campaign.

He must have wondered why they found winning so difficult. Lambie made his Super 14 debut for the Sharks against the Highlanders in Dun- edin — Stefan Terblanche moved to centre — and Plumtree’s team promptly proceeded to win seven of their next eight games in the competition. The Sharks then dominated the Currie Cup, topping the log and beating Super 14 finalists (the Bulls and Western Province) in the play-offs to take the title.

While Lambie was tidy, safe and brave at fullback in the Super 14, it was coach John Plumtree’s decision to switch the young player to flyhalf, via inside centre, for the Currie Cup which was pivotal to the fresh, dynamic style of rugby played by the Sharks.

The move also brought rapid success. Lambie, the Sharks rookie in February, ended the season as a Springbok and he was man-of-the-match in the Currie Cup final with 25 points, including two tries, in the Sharks’ 30-10 win over Western Province.

His audacious break and hand-off of the brawny, fiercely-competitive Springbok flank Schalk Burger for his first try provided the abiding memory of the Durban final.

But it was his willingness and ability to attack the gainline, his straight running and his slick distribution which helped transform the Sharks into dangerous attackers in the competition.

His sudden emergence could not have come at a more opportune moment for Plumtree, who desperately needed a creative flyhalf with vision to spark his new game plan.

He also lifted the 114-year siege of Michaelhouse, becoming the Balgowan school’s first rugby Springbok when he was included in the national squad to tour the UK in November.

“I had e-mails, phone calls and letters to congratulate me. Everyone in the Michaelhouse community is very proud and probably a bit relieved to now have their first Springbok,” he told the Sharks website at the time. “I just feel very privileged to be the one.”

Lambie admits that his dramatic climb to the top has left him stunned.

“It has been an exciting year, a roller-coaster year; it’s all happened quite quickly and it’s nice to have some time off now to let it all sink in and to take it all in.”

“It was so good to be a part of such a special team like the Sharks this year. It was a year I’ll never forget.”

Lambie said that the style of rugby played by the Sharks was not tailored to his strengths.

“We all enjoyed playing a ball-in-hand approach and it played to a lot of our strengths as players. All credit to the management and senior players for giving us the freedom and confidence to play that style, and to back us.”

Lambie won four Test caps on the UK tour and will benefit from the experience, particularly as he was used in the most trying circumstances, off the bench in the closing minutes and when tight internationals were hanging in the balance.

But Lambie will not dictate where he wants to play his rugby.

“I’m happy to play 15, 12 or 10 — wherever the coach wants me.”

He said the strong system off the field — “from the people in my life, my family, my girlfriend and my grandparents” — have helped him cope with the pressures and the expectations.

In a highly successful season, there was little negative comment, he said, and he was able to concentrate on not “getting ahead of myself”.

Lambie is certainly not taking 2011 for granted and said his aim is to make the Sharks’ starting line-up for the new Super 15 competition.

“With a few new signings (including Bulls flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter), it’s going to be a clean slate at the start which means proving myself,” he told Michael Marnewick, the Sharks website editor.

But, with a taste of international rugby on the UK tour, Lambie also has his sights set on the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to go to the World Cup, so I’d like to play well enough to earn my selection into the Springbok squad and hopefully I get to go to New Zealand.”

Precocious cricketers and rugby players, who have burst onto the scene in a debut season, will tell you that the second year often proves the toughest.

Opponents and their coaches now know what to expect and Lambie will be a marked man. But the young player has shown he has the temperament, the talent and the sensible support, both from the Sharks’ coaching staff and his family, to meet new challenges.

Lambieghini has too much quality and class to spin out of control.

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