Lambie: I have to keep pinching myself to know it's real

Pat Lambie (Gallo)
Pat Lambie (Gallo)

Cape Town - Because he started his professional career so young, it feels like Pat Lambie has been on our TV screens forever. 

His breakout year at the Sharks came all the way back in 2010 when he was just 19-years-old, and it has been some ride since then. 

After 56 Test caps, two Currie Cup titles and a seemingly never-ending debate over his best position, Lambie has had to hang up his boots for the last time at the age of just 28

He leaves the game with unfulfilled dreams and bitter disappointment, but Lambie is taking comfort in the fact that he has removed himself from danger. 

The concussion symptoms he still experiences to this day made the decision easier, and the fact that his wife Kate is due to give birth in mid-June means that there is much comfort in the Lambie household.

The dangers of playing rugby are now a thing of the past. 

Everyone who was at Newlands on June 11, 2016 knew immediately that there was something seriously wrong when CJ Stander went clattering into Lambie in sickening fashion. 

It left the playmaker motionless on the Cape Town turf, and he has never quite recovered from that hit. 

In May last year, Lambie was ruled out with a serious knee injury just four minutes into Racing 92's Champions Cup final against Leinster in Bilbao. 

That would prove to be his final outing in professional rugby. 

"It's been a long nine-month process and I've tried pretty much everything there is," he told Sport24 from Paris on Monday.

"I've had three different courses of medication, I've had treatment on my neck and my jaw, I've had eye rehabilitation exercises, balance work, I've been on multi-vitamins, I've had blood tests, MRIs, I've seen specialists here in France and neurologists back in South Africa ... all the information that has been given back to me is that it isn't worth the risk and the advice is that I stop playing."

Lambie was only told that it was all over after one last appointment with a neurologist on Wednesday last week, and it has been a long few days since then. 

"It's all still feeling a little bit surreal. Now that it's all happened, I keep pinching myself to make sure that it's reality," he said.

"I'm really disappointed because I believe that I still had some good playing days ahead of me and some dreams I wanted to achieve on the field.

"But that sense of relief is there as well because I know now that I'm not going to be at risk of having further serious head injuries. It's been an issue that has plagued me for the last two or three years and now it's over, so that's the relief."

Lambie will spend the next "month or so" completing some medical meetings at Racing, who have also committed to completing his knee rehabilitation.

After that, the future is uncertain for Lambie and his family. 

"I'm going to use this time to let the whole thing digest a bit and to think about the future and what we'd like to happen in the coming years," he said.

"Eventually we would like to be back in South Africa close to friends and family, but whether that's going to be an immediate move back or whether we'll stick around here for a few months until after the baby comes, we're not exactly sure yet."

Having played at both the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, Lambie was still very much a part of current coach Rassie Erasmus's plans for the 2019 showpiece in Japan at the end of this year. 

"That's obviously one of the biggest goals that I've had to let go of now," he said.

"I'll be a passionate supporter and get behind the Springboks. I think they're onto something special at the moment and it's great to see how far they've come in the last year to 18 months."

Lambie's supporters will spend countless hours arguing that his Bok career was not helped by the fact that he was never afforded the luxury of settling on one position. 

Flyhalf, fullback, super-sub ... he did it all. 

"That's the story I get to tell," he said, adding that he had no regrets.

"I loved every minute in a Bok jersey whether it was 10, 15, 21, 22 or 23 ... I was very fortunate to have three different coaches and be involved in all those eras.

"I only have fond memories and I know how fortunate I am to have reached 56 Tests."

He will go down as a player that put the team first and one who was extremely gifted between the white lines. 

Respected by his peers, Lambie was given the honour of captaining the Springboks against the Barbarians at Wembley in a classic 31-31 draw in November, 2016. 

Lambie couldn’t have known then how close he was to the end of his Bok career, but it was a day indicative of how far the soft-spoken, well-mannered teenager with bushy hair and a baby face had come. 

"To everyone that has shown so much love and support through my whole career, I really do appreciate it," Lambie offered.

"It's made this whole journey a really special one and one that I can look back on with extremely fond memories ... so thank you."

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