Pat Lambie, who announced his retirement from all rugby last week, was one of those unfortunate players who was simply accident-prone.
In the course of a career that he can be justifiably proud of, he had everything from a broken finger, a shoulder AC joint, torn biceps, a neck vertebrae injury, a lower back injury, a cracked eye socket, an ACL knee injury to a series of concussions.
The latter gave him no option but to retire.
Was Lambie too soft for the game of rugby that had become increasingly physical and brutal?
Since his first Currie Cup match as an 18-year-old in 2009, he was injury free until 2012, excluding a broken finger in 2011.
From 2012 onwards, his only season without a lay-off for an injury of some kind, was in 2013.
Last week, Lambie had no option but to call it a rugby day. Had he carried on after a series of concussions, it may have proved fatal in the long run. But there were also many, many other injuries that stunted his talent and growth as player, especially at test level,
Since his first-class debut, then only 18 years old, as replacement centre for the Sharks against Griquas in a Currie Cup match in 2009, his career continued to be a stop-start affair.
The former captain of rugby and cricket at Michaelhouse, where he was head boy, also captained the KwaZulu-Natal schools rugby and cricket sides in 2008 after representing them the previous year. The fairy tale continued in 2011 when he made his first appearance for the Springboks from the bench. After two matches as replacement he was first selected for the run-on side.
Lambie played at fullback for the 2010 Junior Springboks in the U20 World Championship after playing at Super Rugby level earlier that year when he was still only 19 years and five months old.
He was on the field in all 16 the Sharks matches as fullback, centre or flyhalf in 2010 and was Man of the Match in the Currie Cup final won by the Sharks against Western Province.
It was also in 2011 that his first (very minor) injury struck with a broken finger, but he wasn’t side-lined for too long.
At the 2011 Rugby World Cup Lambie started in the fullback berth for all the group stage games and for the quarter final match. He had a try disallowed during the Springbok quarter-final loss against the Australian team in the Boks’ controversial 9-11 loss.
- Then, in 2012 and in top form with his general play and his kicking, he suffered concussion for the first time. He returned to the Sharks team after missing one match. However, Lambie was injured again and missed the playoff match against the Reds and the semi-final against the Stormers.
- Lambie’s injury woes started mounting in the 2014 season. Since then he has not played a full season of rugby without missing out on matches because of various injuries.
- In 2014 he sustained a biceps injury in the seventh minute against the Bulls at Loftus and was ruled out for the rest of the season
- In 2015 Lambie was laid low by a neck vertebrae injury. He was off the field for six weeks but included in the Springbok squad for the World Cup.
- In 2016 Lambie was injured during the Sharks' pre-season tour fixture against leading Top14 team Toulon. This time it was his shoulder AC joint.
The Sharks released an injury update confirming that the injury needed an operation and that he would miss approximately 12 weeks.
- Then, also in 2016, came the tackle that probably set up his eventual retirement.
Having had concussion lay-offs in the past, the tackle by his captain in the 2010 U20 World Championship, CJ Stander (Lambie was the Junior Boks’ vice-captain) was probably the catalyst for his continued concussion problems that led to his retirement.
Stander tried to charge down a Lambie kick. In the follow-through of his jump he made contact with Lambie’s face. The flyhalf fell on his back and there was a whiplash as his head hit the ground.
- Lambie only returned to the playing field in 2017, injured his back against the Waratahs and was side-lined for two months. He went off with concussion in his first match after two months when the Sharks played the Southern Kings in Mandela Bay.
After signing a contract with Racing 42 in France, Lambie made his debut in the French Top14 competition in October 2017.
The injury jinx continued.
- On 30 December 2017 Lambie sustained an eye socket injury during the early stages of Racing’s Top 14 clash against Oyonnax.
He had to leave the field and his club at the time said that it was not a concussion injury. But hindsight would suggest otherwise.
- And then, in May last year, Lambie injured his knee when he went for a break three minutes into the Champions Cup final between his club, Racing 92, and Leinster, who won 15-12.
Continued headaches, tremors and migraines and also the recurrence of concussion-related lay-offs due to knocks to the head (and eye-socket) forced him to relook his rugby career.
At last he had no option but to follow the advice of two neurologists, one in France and one in South Africa, to call it a day at 28.
Lambie played in 56 tests, as flyhalf and fullback, and once on the wing as a replacement, scored 153 points for South Africa, and retired as a popular, very talented player whose career never blossomed to the full because of the concussion problems and his wide-ranged other injuries.
He ran out in 101 matches for the Sharks (30 for the Currie Cup side, 71 times in Super Rugby matches) and scored 1086 points in those matches.