Rob Houwing

Pollard SA’s future: start it now!

2014-06-30 07:49
port24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)

Cape Town – There should be no going back ... let Handre Pollard run out at No 10 for the Springboks when they open their Castle Rugby Championship campaign against Argentina on August 16.

As it happened: South Africa v Scotland

The match is scheduled for Loftus, home ground of his Super Rugby franchise the Bulls, which only makes it more fitting and comfortable that he get the nod then.

Bok coach Heyneke Meyer is a cautious planner, always with an eye on bigger pictures, so when Pollard took to the field for his sparkling debut against Scotland in Port Elizabeth on Saturday – South Africa romped to a 55-6 victory – he may not necessarily have had in mind the 20-year-old also being entrusted with flyhalf duty straight away in the more demanding southern hemisphere competition.

But on evidence from a vibrant, near-capacity Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium against the Scots, the 20-year-old clearly has both the confidence and abundant ability to do the job.

It helps, of course, that the Boks begin home and then away against the Pumas, usually the weakest by some distance of the quartet of teams involved, and they would be well-advised to try to win with the four-try bonus point each time to get a really good head of steam for the tougher business.

That is perhaps easier said than done in Argentina itself, but the Boks certainly continued their mounting zeal for crossing the whitewash during their three Tests in the June window, registering a praiseworthy 17 in total against Wales and Scotland – an average of just under six per match.

Significantly, perhaps, their best haul was eight in Port Elizabeth, with novice Pollard pulling the strings at pivot in a seriously illuminating 71-minute maiden appearance before he made way for another first-timer in Marnitz Boshoff.

If Pollard could play with such authority and panache when so hurriedly introduced to the Bok mix, and presumably more than a little weary after his hasty travel back from New Zealand and the final of the IRB Junior World Championship, just imagine how a suitably refreshed customer could trouble the unsuspecting Pumas in a few weeks’ time?

My own take is that the Boks, although decently served on various occasions by the likes of Morne Steyn and Pat Lambie (very soon fit again), have desperately seldom in recent years fielded a No 10 who genuinely took ownership of a game in the way Pollard did the latest one.

Of course he still has some rough edges – a little like Frans Steyn, he occasionally lands awkward-angled or long place-kicks and fluffs the odd simpler one – but the quicker these can be ironed out on the highest stage via a mounting tally of caps, the faster he will be a well-rounded candidate for flyhalf at the 2015 World Cup.

That’s not to say that in certain conditions – for instance, a miserable NZ or UK quagmire and howling gale – the metronomic Morne Steyn doesn’t still offer horses-for-courses possibilities to the cause, not to mention abundant experience.

Meyer may even still feel this most seasoned of Springbok No 10s, with his 56 appearances, is his intended banker for the English-staged World Cup, even if that would raise the eyebrows of many observers.

But it is immensely difficult not to suspect that Pollard is in Test rugby for the long haul ... so let’s not interrupt for one minute his education at the premier tier.

He had it pretty easy against the battered, largely impotent Scots, there’s no denying it: now let him negotiate some presumably tougher times against the Wallabies and All Blacks to stretch him and suitably steel him for hurdles further up the road.

Judging by some of his sound-bites immediately after the PE Test, Meyer will be open to selecting various young guns in the Championship: “Handre is already a mature player and he combined well with Jan Serfontein today.

“They (the Boks’ more raw players) are pressuring the first-choice players and a lot of the new guys will be contenders for the Rugby Championship.”

Pollard just seems the entirely natural “Full Monty” for both foot and hand skills, but his defensive stoutness – it is surely only a matter of time before he is a particularly powerful 100kg specimen – and willingness to receive the ball way clear of the proverbial pocket are key strings to his bow that give him an edge already over several other contenders for the Bok job.

Flyhalf has been one area often still shrouded in a fog of uncertainty during Meyer’s two-year tenure as Bok coach -- evidenced thus far by use, to varying degrees, of around half a dozen players in the spot.

A guiding light, I strongly sense, has arrived to steer the country toward a more visible horizon.

That light is Handre Pollard.

Shouldn’t we grab it very firmly and decisively?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  handre pollard  |  rugby
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