Hi guys. I have a theory about flyhalfs and it go like this: to play the position in a Test match require so many different abilities and skills that, beside maybe some rare players, there is actually no such thing as a “Perfect 10”. To some degree every 10 is a compromise.
Especially in South Africa at the moment there is not one candidate who tick all the many boxes we require. If you honest with yourself even the South African 10 you love so much is not the complete package.
We been talking a lot about the merits of the local flyhalfs (and we will talk about them today too) but for the article this week I thought we will take a specific look at Pat Lambie’s game in the Champions Cup semi-final this weekend.
A core role of the 10 is to get his backs away effectively. Poor execution by a flyhalf can be like a poison to his backline. Pat is good at this on a technical level as we see in the picture above where he pass the ball between the two players in the pod to hit the senter Vakatawa on a fade-away line. Normally that pass will go out the backdoor, but the pass to Vakatawa need to happen at that moment so Lambie “thread the needle”.
If we looking at pure pass ability then I think Elton Jantjies is top of the list, with guys like Lambie, Damian Willemse and Robert Du Preez behind him.
A flyhalf need to vary his depth to suit the situation, but the difficult thing is to play really flat. With modern defence dictating like it is, a flyhalf must be able to play late sometimes so that he can create uncertainty and space. We want to keep the inside defence honest and prevent them shifting out, and it is difficult for defenders to make decisions if a flyhalf delay his passes.
Historically and in this game we have seen that Pat is OK at this ability. In the example above he pass just a half a meter too early and that allow the senter Arnold to shift out to cover the next man.
Fair to say not many better than Elton at this ability to pull the strings right on the advantage line. After him perhaps Willemse and Du Preez are also quite good.
In a flyhalf and a scrumhalf we want excellent awareness to the left and right because they must dictate play to where the opportunities is, to where the space is, and to where the numerical advantage is. We do not want our 9 or 10 sending play to the wrong side!
Unfortunately if I have a criticism of Pat in the past – and it raise its head in this game – is that he don’t always see the best place to pass the ball. In the example above we can see the big opportunity to Pat’s right, but instead he is looking inward and feed his hooker Chat on a inside line. Again I think Elton is good here, as well as Du Preez and Pollard.
Seeing the spacial depth on a rugby field is the skill needed for good tactical kicking. Just like some players doesn’t always see the things around them, some players does not see opportunities in depth that is further away from them.
Pat is very good at this and he is very quickly aware of poor positioning of the back three and the spaces behind the defence. In the example above he react very quickly from turnover ball, realise that the left wing Wooton try to scramble back, and take advantage with a great kick behind him. Funny enough we don’t have good kicking 10s in this country and Pat is maybe among the best in terms of awareness and decision making.
The flyhalf’s boot can get you out of trouble, but it can also get you into trouble if it is not powerful enough. A 10 with a big boot can keep his team in the opponent half the whole day and that is slow poison. It is also absolute slow poison to your own team if a guy can not give you territorial advantage after all your hard work.
I would not say Pat necessarily have a cannon for a boot, as we see in a example above. It is actually a penalty kick so he have all the time in the world but he don’t really drive the Irish back that far. He did not even reach the 10m line. We can safely say that guys like Willemse and Du Preez has bigger distance on their kicks. As a quick note, Pat is also sometimes a victim of charge downs and teams will notice that.
The “hinge” between the flyhalf and his forwards is the favourite place for a team to get momentum. This where we will see big runners charging at the space to set up deadly quick ball on the next phase. I will not describe Pat as a strong tackler who can slow the attack (as Pollard and Du Preez can), but he will make his tackles and rely on his good technique.
One area however where Pat shine is on his defence awareness and positioning. In the example above Munster has a nice numbers overlap down the left, but Pat react very early and come up fast and in the right place to shut down the option.
What we talking about here is the ability of the 10 to organise his troops and take control, and this is maybe the greatest strength of Pat. To watch him is like watching a conductor. The whole game we see him shouting and pointing and placing his chess pieces on attack and defence,
The above picture is just two examples of many, but in the first box we see Pat actually push his lock Nakarawa to fold across to get numbers up, and in the second box he point out the threat of Holland coming up for a possible inside ball from Keatley. Some players is like a glue for the team.
There many other things we can discuss like for instance attack, where Pat is perhaps in the same class as Elton in terms of having good feet and speed, but obviously nowhere near Willemse who is in a class of his own. Pollard and Du Preez use more muscle to break the line.
BMT is another big requirement where Pat come out on top I think. He have always shown the ability to rise on the big stage, followed maybe by Handre in this regard.
At the end of the day for me there is no clear perfect candidate for Bok 10. So the questions then is how do you want to play, what is non-negotiable, what strengths do you want, and what weaknesses can you ignore?
Each of us will have our own answers to this questions if we were the coach. Soon we will see what Rassie think, and whether Pat will feature in his plans at all.
DISCLAIMER: English is Oom’s third language, after Rugby and Afrikaans.