GALLERY: Overseas Springbok XV
With one or two individual exceptions, neither team’s trio in those positions looked convincing in respective matches against Argentina and New Zealand last weekend, where the Boks scraped home in Mendoza and the Aussies lost again to the All Blacks in Wellington.
Although Zane Kirchner was added on Wednesday to the extended Bok touring squad for their Australasian leg, the big beneficiary of current uncertainty from a South African point of view might just be Pat Lambie, who offers a broader range of skills than Kirchner and seems in with a healthy shout for the fullback berth after Willie le Roux’s slightly error-prone latest showing against the fiercely-motivated Pumas.
Lambie’s claims are helped by the fact that in successive second-half appearances off the bench in the last line of defence against the Argentineans, he has looked both assured and incisive – particularly in the first-round clash at FNB Stadium where he made one or two knife-through-butter bursts into attacking plays.
There is a case for saying it was easy to impress on that occasion (just as fellow-sub Fourie du Preez did at scrumhalf while the clock ran down), given that he came on at about the hour mark and with the ragged visitors already effectively having run up the white flag in the 60-point drubbing.
What couldn’t be denied was that Lambie seized his chance, and he did little glaringly wrong again when summoned in the 63rd minute in the greatly more nail-biting Mendoza fixture, with Le Roux switching quite seamlessly to wing.
Lambie would really be completing a full circle if he does get a start at fullback in Brisbane, as his earliest appearances of the Heyneke Meyer regime for the Boks came in that slot: first as an early second-half substitute for injured Kirchner in Meyer’s first game as coach against England in Durban on June 9 last year, and then as starter for the rip-roaring follow-up clash at Ellis Park where South Africa clinched the three-Test series spoils early.
So while his utility possibilities are clearly valued – perhaps detrimentally, they will always make Lambie a rosy bench option – it seems clear that Meyer is among those who believe he is potentially just as adept at No 15 as he is much closer to the heat of battle.
Le Roux, of course, is perfectly used to operating in the wider channel at Super Rugby level for the Cheetahs, where big unit Hennie Daniller often starts at No 15 – the silken-skilled Le Roux has something of a “libero” licence anyway in the southern hemisphere franchise competition.
So Meyer may be tempted to promote Lambie to a fresh start for his country at the back, after he last did so competently at flyhalf in all three matches on the unbeaten end-of-year tour in 2012.
Morne Steyn is back in the No 10 channel with some conviction this year, of course, so that avenue seems currently blocked to other contenders: perhaps it is just one reason why versatile Lambie – it is amazing to think this four-season “veteran” of first-class rugby is still only 22 – has upped the ante a little in his cameos of late in a fullback’s capacity.
With a near-listless Bjorn Basson hardly setting the world alight at No 14 of late, a back three of Lambie, Bryan Habana and Le Roux is a fairly attractive prospect, the one downside being that none of the trio can claim to be the tallest of timber: like it or not, it can be a drawback in competing to collect high bombs, however brave the individual may be.
It is here, of course, where someone like the proven world-class JP Pietersen provides valuable balance with his height and power (1.90m, 103kg), although he is tied up with Japanese commitments with Panasonic Wild Knights during the Championship and only becomes eligible for Bok duty by agreement again for the end-of-year European tour.
Meanwhile, the Australian brains trust will also be mulling over their fullback and wing choices, given that Brumbies star Jesse Mogg was patchy at best in the last line against the All Blacks, the athletically-gifted Israel Folau has simply not gone looking for enough work in a Wallaby shirt at right wing, and on the left James O’Connor poses eternal questions simply because of his vast value as a versatile backline customer.
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