Pretoria - If there was ever any doubt just how much Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer rates IRB Junior Player of the year Handré Pollard as a match-winner and future Springbok great, his comments in naming the flyhalf in the starting line-up for Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener against Argentina would have dispelled that for ever.
Pollard was preferred to regular Morné Steyn and utility Pat Lambie by Meyer to make his second test start on Saturday, continuing the meteoric rise for the SA under-20 captain after an impressive debut against Scotland in Port Elizabeth, reports the supersport.com website.
There is no doubt Meyer knows what he has in both Steyn and Lambie. Lambie’s versatility and Steyn’s rock-solid kicking ability make them both valuable assets to the Bok cause.
But neither of them possesses the x-factor that Pollard does – the closest thing South Africa has seen to a complete flyhalf this millennium, and one which Meyer believes can well become a Bok great if he knuckles down, remains humble and continues on his current path.
For that reason the Bok coach is backing him against Los Pumas on Saturday, not only because he wants him to build up as much experience as possible, but also because he is playing on his home ground, is a settled member of the squad now and has the opportunity to start cementing a place for himself in next year’s Rugby World Cup squad.
It won’t be a surprise if Pollard is the starting flyhalf for the World Cup, but first he will need to find his feet and settle into the position during this year’s Rugby Championship. How he handles the pressure and how he excels is up to him, but it is certain that the Bok coach supports him all the way.
“He is only 20 years old, but he is a very mature 20 year old. I’ve watched him since he was a 15-year old and he has always impressed me,” Meyer explained when asked about Pollard’s characteristics.
“What makes him an unbelievable prospect, and he knows there still is a lot of hard work ahead. The great thing about him is – and you don’t find a lot of this – he has an unbelievable attacking game, he is good enough to have a good tactical game. You don’t find that a lot in a number of 10s. Most of them are good tactical flyhalves or they are running flyhalves. Handre is almost too big and tall for 10, and that will always be his challenge, especially with his speed and reaction to kick under pressure.
“But he is mentally tough and the other thing that impresses me is his leadership quality. I always believe you have to have a 10 that the players trust, a 10 that the players know is cool-headed and don’t mind if he takes charge of the calls because they trust him. They know he is cool and calm under pressure.”
Meyer added that he could see Pollard switching to inside centre later in his career, but with his solid defence and attacking game, he could play both positions equally well.
“He also has a good running game, that’s why I believe he will be a good 12 as well. His kicking percentage at poles was 83% in Super Rugby. Most of the teams also now attack the 10/12 channel, and he is a superb defender and he is big enough to knock guys back, even forwards.
“So there are no grey areas in his game, and especially attacking abilities he is great to watch. The The one thing I said to him is that he has to keep his feet on the ground, don’t get ahead on himself, and to work on his kicking game and at poles. That is the one area he can work on as a youngster.
“He has got a good defence and attack, a great mindset both on and off the field and like I said, the one thing that always ticks a box for me is he is a great leader.
“He has been the best player at the under-20 tournament and worldwide at that level he has been renowned as a world class player and now it is just to stay humble and take it to the next level.
“I believe in him, I’ve always believed in him. I think he can be a world class player going forward.”
So far the signs are exciting for Pollard and given Meyer’s career highlights have often been by backing a young ten to produce the goods, if Pollard fulfils the expectations of him, Bok rugby will be a lot stronger heading to England next year.
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Damian de Allende, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Eben Etzebeth, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Morne Steyn, 23 Jan Serfontein
15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Juan Martin Hernandez, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Juan Manuel