Don't write off the Springboks
November 1, 2010
Will the Sharks' Patrick Lambie emerge as the star of the Springboks' forthcoming tour? © Getty Images
If the Springboks' Grand Slam tour this year will be remembered for anything, it may well be for the international debut of Sharks utility back Patrick Lambie.
The gifted 20-year-old cut Western Province to shreds in Saturday's Currie Cup final in Durban. His 25 points were second only to the record of 26 set by Derick Hougaard in the 2002 finale.
Not only did Lambie kick well, but he also scored two tries - one of which was an exceptional solo effort in which he beat a host of defenders, including Springbok flank Schalk Burger.
How will South Africa accommodate him if they have Morné Steyn? Well, Lambie has also represented the Sharks at fullback and inside centre. And with Wynand Olivier, Jaque Fourie and Juan de Jongh all on the injured list, coach Peter de Villiers may well be looking for some creative midfield solutions. Could this be the gap for Lambie?
The logical way to blood such a young talent is probably off the substitutes' bench, but Lambie has showed that he's not afraid of the big occasion. Necessity may well prove the mother of invention here.
For the Boks this is likely to be a tough tour. The original idea to rest key players was revised, but they now have no other choice with the length of their injury list. None of Fourie, Olivier, De Jongh John Smit, Andries Bekker, Fourie du Preez, Heinrich Brüssow, JP Pietersen, Gurthrö Steenkamp, Butch James, Schalk Burger, Ricky Januarie and BJ Botha are fit to tour.
This is also a tour that is likely to determine whether world rugby will be continued to be treated to the wit and wisdom of coach Peter de Villiers. His assistants, Dick Muir and Gary Gold, also only just escaped the axe in the wake of South Africa's disastrous Tri-Nations campaign.
The only change the South African Rugby Union has made to the Bok management team is to replace media liaison Anthony Mackaiser with its head of communications, Andy Colquhoun. Whether he will be able to steer De Villiers clear of controversy remains to be seen!
However, the Bok coach's public pronouncements may well be a case of neither here nor there if the Springboks can get back on the winning track.
On the face of it, South Africa have a hell of a task against Ireland, who will be spurred on by the emotion of opening a new stadium.
But don't write off the Springboks just yet. They can still field an experienced pack of forwards and a solid halfback pairing of Francois Hougaard and Morné Steyn.
Yet there are many burning questions about the Boks. There may be obvious trust issues between De Villiers and his assistants on tour after reports surfaced that he was looking to replace them. The rumour was that they only kept their jobs because the head coach could not find suitable replacements.
De Villiers denies this and says he merely approached other coaches with a view to possibly taking them on board as consultants.
Then there is the obvious issue of struggling for cohesion. The Springboks have just had their medical checks, arrive in Dublin on Thursday, play on Saturday and head for Cardiff on Sunday. It may be a Test that determines the success of their tour, yet it's going to feel like a blur for all involved.
If the Boks manage to do the Grand Slam for the first time since 1960-61, it will therefore be a proper one in every respect.
Lambie is one of six rookies in the squad. The others are dynamic Sharks flank Keegan Daniel, powerful ball-carrying loose forward Willem Alberts, young fly-half Elton Jantjies, pacey wing Lwazi Mvovo and versatile prop Coenie Oosthuizen.
Lambie is the one to look out for, while Alberts will enjoy the conditions in the Northern Hemisphere if he gets an opportunity. Mvovo was one of the form wings in the Currie Cup, but will probably have to wait his turn behind Bryan Habana.
Also look out for Bjorn Basson to possibly feature on the right wing. He made his Test debut against Wales in Cardiff this year and set a new try-scoring record in this year's Currie Cup. His 21 tries beat the previous record of 19 jointly held by Carel du Plessis and Colin Lloyd. Basson is quick, superb in the air and hungry.
Talent still abounds in this Bok squad, but the challenge is to mould it into something special under trying conditions.
As for De Villiers, this really is the test of him as a leader. Will he unravel in the face of adversity or revel in the challenge? Time will tell.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.