Pat Lambie: Beyond the field

Fri, 02 Sep 2016 08:17
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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Jan de Koning spoke to Springbok flyhalf Patrick Lambie in the first of a series of in-depth features.

The image foremost in the minds of most supporters is of a prone Patrick Lambie on the Newlands turf in June.

He was knocked out cold in a sickening clash with Christiaan Stander in the first Test between South Africa and Ireland.

Lambie has not returned to the playing field since and has only just started training in the gym. The concussion has raised questions about his future and there is no certainty as to when he will play again.

While that may have made the headlines, there is another side to the multi-talented Bok icon.

Lambie has always loved sport, with rugby his "passion".

The 25-year-old, who has 51 Test caps to his credit, said he was a better cricket player than a rugby player at school.

However, once he made the SA Schools team in 2007 he chose rugby over cricket.

While sport is his "profession", Lambie studied part-time and has a degree in environmental management. He worked on the degree so that if he has to stop playing, he has something behind his name.

While it took discipline to balance rugby and studies, he persisted and is ready for life after his playing career ends

Lambie said geography was his favourite subject at school and he would not mind being a game ranger.

The Sharks captain - he was appointed Super Rugby skipper for the 2016 season - also enjoys a bit of surfing and tries to "get into the waves" as often as possible.

However, he is still intricately involved in rugby and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

Lambie serves on the board of directors of MyPlayers, the official organisation of professional players in South Africa.

The organisation is 100 percent owned by the players, as they play a key leadership role in determining the general strategy and vision.

Lambie said it is vital to have a players' union, as professional players around the world, South Africa included, have a number of issues of the field.

"MyPlayers looks after the best interests of rugby players in South Africa," Lambie told rugby365, adding that MyPlayers fundamentally looks after the commercial rights of all players in SA.

But why the need for the players to run the organisation when they already spend all their time training and playing? Why not leave this up to people who enjoy sitting in boardrooms, making decisions?

"I think it is important that if it is a players' organisation, there needs to be direct involvement from the players," Lambie said, explaining that they have quarterly meetings when they get feedback and give their input.

The most practical example is when MyPlayers got involved in the Eastern Province Kings saga - fighting for the rights of a group of players who went to court to have EP Rugby (Pty) Ltd - the professional arm of the EP Rugby Union - declared bankrupt after not receiving their salaries for months.

That saga is well-documented, but most players would have been hung out to dry if MyPlayers did not step in.

"MyPlayers is a vehicle for players to turn to for advice and help," Lambie said, adding that they are provided with legal advice and financial assistance.

In fact at the height of the stand-off some players were even provided with good vouchers by MyPlayers.

There are many other reasons why Lambie and other players serve on the board.

"They [MyPlayers] have come a long way in terms of commercial rights. Every time a player or group of players make an appearance [at an event] they are rewarded, every time a player runs onto the field in a Springbok jersey he gets rewarded for that as well."

MyPlayers also have many partners who offer discounted flights, car rentals, motor vehicles, insurance and other benefits to the players.

"Whenever a player has to sight a contract or deal, MyPlayers has a legal team that ensures everything is in order. When players have needs in their personal lives, MyPlayers are there to offer help and support."

Lambie admitted there is a crossover between MyPlayers and the players' agents, as agents also have a responsibility to look after the players' best interests off the field.

"MyPlayers are not in it for any other reason than helping players in South Africa," the Bok No.10 said, adding: "It is a huge benefit for players who don't have agents. They can get everything they need from MyPlayers - from player contracts to off-the-field agreements."

Lambie sees his role on the MyPlayers board as being a "voice" for the players.

"We have to relay all the info back to the players," he said, describing as a "privilege" to be on the MyPlayers board.

It is not just when trouble brews that MyPlayers steps in. Earlier this year a deal was struck with SA Rugby, the professional arm of the SA Rugby Union, that resulted in ZAR90-million made available for contract insurance of the players.

Previously most players were responsible for their own medical insurance and up to 10 percent of their salaries were consumed by that insurance.

"This deal means that every professional player in South Africa is now covered for their contract insurance and does not have to pay a single cent from his salary. There is a realistic chance that a player can get injured and this is a huge saving for a player."

The players also have a benevolent fund, where they donate money to a number of charities or organisations every year.

"It is an opportunity for players to give back to communities or organisations around the country," Lambie said, adding: "There are a number of those [organisations] MyPlayers choose from every year."

Lambie, a true icon and fan favourite, is a born-and-bred Shark.

He was the youngest member of the Springboks' World Cup squad in 2011, aged 21, and has played in two World Cups.

This year, 2016, has not been good for him.

In February Lambie was diagnosed with an AC joint dislocation of his right shoulder, underwent surgery and only returned to the playing field in May.

Then, in his the first Test, tragedy struck again.

However, he is determined to make a full recovery and resume his playing career.

Lambie was not a prodigious player during his Clifton Preparatory school years, but he came into his own while attending Michaelhouse school.

Lambie made the Michaelhouse first team as a fullback and was called up to the SA Schools team. In 2008 Lambie became headboy of Michaelhouse and was elected both first team rugby and cricket captain - once again being called up to the SA Schools side.

He made his Currie Cup debut for the Sharks in 2009 (with 29 matches to his credit) and his Super Rugby debut in 2010 (66 caps).

Lambie - who is capable of playing flyhalf, centre and fullback - made his Bok debut against Ireland in November 2010 (aged 20).

His first five Tests were off the bench. He has started at fullback in 11 Tests, at flyhalf in seven and played off the bench 33 times.

By Jan de Koning