Pollard loses to his new union
Handré Pollard (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Handré Pollard’s meteoric rise to rugby stardom struck a wee bump in the road on Tuesday when the Western Province team he captained were whipped 47-27 by the Blue Bulls in the feature match of day two at the Craven Week at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
There had been much interest in how the Paarl Gym teenager would fare for the blue and white hoops intriguingly against the union who, amidst much hullabaloo, have already claimed his professional signature for next year.
WP Rugby, at roughly the same time as several of their existing first-class personnel announced their intentions to seek new pastures, came under public fire recently for failing to nail down the services of a flyhalf who had taken the IRB Junior World Championships by storm.
Not even the first choice in the No 10 pecking order at the outset of the home-staged tournament, with Tony Jantjies running out in that slot initially and Cheetahs wunderkind Johan Goosen ruled out altogether by long-term injury, Pollard’s belated introduction to the Baby Boks’ plans rubbed off notably positively as they clawed their way back from a poor start against Ireland in the pool stage to grab the silverware in a memorable Newlands final against New Zealand.
His all-round talent and exceptional temperament there for all to see, many Stormers and WP enthusiasts were understandably irked to learn soon afterwards that Pollard was indeed bound for the ever-ambitious Bulls fold.
CEO Rob Wagner even felt obliged to “gate-crash” a routine Stormers media briefing to outline how spiritedly they had tried to keep him, in negotiations with his father apparently dating back to August 2010.
At least for the first half of what some might have been tempted to term an “awkward” encounter with his employers-to-be, Pollard did not seem especially flustered by the occasion, delivering a suitably full-blooded effort for the province he soon bids farewell to.
He showed some deft touches as WP, in a genuinely ding-dong 35 minutes, went down the tunnel at the interval holding a 27-26 edge.
Just as importantly, he showed better consistency off the kicking tee than his opposite number Ryno Eksteen, which went some way to explaining WP’s fractional edge.
Early in the second period, though, it became noticeable that Pollard was labouring with some sort of leg injury - an ambitious penalty attempt of his from halfway out a few minutes into the second period barely got off the ground.
He stayed on the park when arguably the WP coaching staff should have withdrawn him from the fray: even your “biggest name” cannot always be effective when crocked, after all, and as the half developed into increasingly one-way traffic the other way, Pollard could not even take touch-finding kicks.
As if to aggravate his day a little further, rival Eksteen rediscovered his own kicking accuracy at the posts and also contributed in sprightly fashion to the young Bulls’ gradual grasp on things from an attacking point of view.
The game did sport some rip-roaring tries, compelling ball-carries by meaty forwards and crunching hits to suggest that schoolboy rugby is in good shape in these traditional talent-factory regions.
But defensive structure and technique was also alarmingly absent on occasion, lending weight to the theory of respected gurus like Rassie Erasmus that such organisational naivety is one reason why people are so hasty to brand rugby at this level more refreshing and free-spirited than further up the (paid) pecking order ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing