Sharks won’t be led like Lamb(ies) to a slaughter

In a South African Currie Cup rugby union final featuring a host of Springboks, a player who has never worn the green and gold could prove the key performer.

Sharks fly-half Patrick Lambie turned 20 this month and is considered a star of the future for his Durban-based province and the national team, who will defend the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand next September.

But before he dreams about the land of the long white cloud, Lambie and his team-mates have a date with Western Province on Saturday in Durban.

At stake is a trophy that has been contested for more than a hundred years, symbolises South African inter-provincial supremacy and never fails to capture the public imagination.

Pundit and public opinion differs as to who will succeed the Pretoria Blue Bulls as champions, but everyone accepts Lambie could have a crucial influence on the outcome as the Sharks chase a sixth title.

He and fellow pivot, 20-year-old Elton Jantjies from the Johannesburg Golden Lions, have been the finds of the domestic season and offer hope amid the dark clouds of a disastrous Springboks Tri-Nations campaign that yielded just one win.

Both are expected to tour Britain and Ireland next month as the world champions face the four home unions on consecutive Saturdays from November 6 seeking a rare Grand Slam.

Any doubts as to whether baby-faced Lambie, with his mop of dark curly hair, could survive the pressure cooker of Currie Cup knockout rugby were dispelled two weeks ago.

He more than held his own in a 16-12 semi-final triumph over the mighty Bulls in a game delayed almost an hour by a swarm of bees, kicking three penalties and converting an early try from flanker Keegan Daniel.

However, it was his bravery in the dying minutes that left an indelible impression, particularly the safe fielding of a high kick from rival fly-half Morne Steyn before he relieved a siege of the Sharks tryline.

“Patrick has matured a lot during this season and he stepped up against the Bulls. Now he has to do it again,” stressed New Zealand-born Sharks coach John Plumtree.

Western Province, who won the first of 34 Currie Cup titles in 1889, have a fly-half at the other end of his career in 32-year-old Willem de Waal. Not the most dangerous of runners, he compensates with deadly place kicking.

Sharks appear stronger up front with an all-Springbok front row of loose head Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira and the Du Plessis brothers, hooker Bismarck and tight head Jannie, while flanker Willem Alberts is an emerging talent.

World Cup-winning Springbok skipper and hooker John Smit will be a notable absentee with an injury ruling him out until next year, while JP Pietersen is another Sharks casualty and his right-wing place goes to Odwa Ndungane.

Best known of the Province pack is Springbok loose forward Schalk Burger, whose blond locks appear to cover every blade of a grass on a pitch as he hunts the ball.

Province, whose last title came nine years ago, look potent behind the scrum with an all-Springbok three-quarter line of Gio Aplon, Jean de Villiers, Juan de Jongh and back-in-form Bryan Habana.

Besides Lambie, Sharks boast a shrewd captain in veteran centre Stefan Terblanche and an exciting young left wing in Lwazi Mvovo, another contender for a place in the 30-strong national squad to be named after the final.

Joel Stransky, whose extra-time drop-goal won hosts South Africa the 1995 Rugby World Cup, believes Province may have the slightest of edges due to abundant playmakers, but he is not prepared to back his view with a bet.

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