WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Baby-faced fullback Patrick Lambie says his selection in the Springboks team to play Fiji at the Rugby World Cup on Saturday is "a million times better than Christmas morning."
The 20-year-old Lambie will make his first World Cup appearance on the same ground at Wellington on which he made his first starting appearance for the Springboks, against the All Blacks during this season's Tri-Nations tournament.
The versatile back from the Durban-based Sharks gains his chance because of injuries to center Jean de Villiers and winger Bryan Habana which have forced a reshuffle of the Springboks backline.
"I'm very happy and hugely excited to have the opportunity to play this weekend," he said Thursday. "Obviously it's never nice when there are injuries in the squad but it does give guys opportunities and I can see now I'm ready for an interesting challenge.
"It's a dream come true to be firstly here and secondly to get the opportunity to play is something very special. It's a million times better than Christmas morning, I can assure you of that."
Lambie has battled a shoulder injury since his starting debut against the All Blacks but said he was now confident that was in the past.
"I'm really pleased with the progress I've made with my shoulder and the medical staff are happy as well," he said. "I was actually given the all clear last week so I've been raring to go for a couple of weeks now and I'm happy I'm in the mix this weekend."
Lambie said the fast and powerful Fijians were likely to be a challenge to contain but he felt confident of performing his role as the Springboks' last line of defense.
"I think something I was told when I was a youngster (is) that everyone's ankles are similar sizes so you're fine when you're going for his ankles," he said.
Winger Odwa Ndungane has also been handed a World Cup debut as a replacement for the injured Habana. He is now set to emulate his brother Akona Ndungane, who played for the World Cup-winning South African team in France in 2007.
"I'm very happy and excited with the challenge," Ndungane said. "It's going to be a big one but one we've been working hard for so definitely looking forward to it.
"I spoke to (Akona) and gave him the good news and shared the good news with my family. They were very happy for me."
Ndungane said he was prepared for the physical challenge of Fiji.
"We've seen the type of game they play and they're a very physical team, especially their backs," he said. "They love to run with the ball so I think for us it's important we do everything right and keep the ball away from them. I think that's the only way we can actually put them under pressure, by not giving them the ball, doing our set pieces right and dominating that aspect of the game."