Rugby Championship

Persevere with Pollard, Boks!

2014-08-18 14:09
Handre Pollard (Gallo)

Cape Town – Dropping Handre Pollard now would be a knee-jerk response by the Springboks, following their laboured 13-6 Castle Rugby Championship victory over Argentina in the Loftus slush.

Calculating, conscientious coach Heyneke Meyer, to his credit, generally steers clear of acting in that fashion: he was refreshingly brave in preferring him to the experienced Morne Steyn for the Pretoria match, and should not depart from his clearly longer-term, World Cup 2015-aimed vision at this juncture as the Boks brace themselves for the swift return against the Pumas in Salta on Saturday (21:40 SA time).

A vote of confidence would be a far better way to make the 20-year-old feel secure, feel part of the furniture, than to ditch him after two games --- one very promising (Scotland) and one slightly ropey (the Argentina first-round encounter).

On Saturday, the rookie was caught as off-guard as anyone in the South African squad and management by the rare, unanticipated August deluge.

Useful lessons can be banked, all-round, and the Boks move on ... without any major need, I suggest, to shake the selection bag.

Pollard either dropped, fumbled or slice-kicked the cake of soap otherwise labelled a rugby ball a couple of times during the Loftus tempest; so did many more seasoned characters in the home ranks as a Pumas XV not under-stocked with Euro-based personnel took massive heart from the levelling environment suddenly before them.

And yes, when the now 57-cap Steyn was sensibly enough introduced to the necessary dogfight on 46 minutes, he brought superior composure and general game-management under the circumstances (we gave him 6.5 out of 10 on the Sport24 performance card to Pollard’s 5.5, so don’t be too quick to call us Pollard-obsessed).

But it does happen – all the time, actually – that substitutes bring timely, often better value than the players they replace, and it doesn’t automatically mean you swap spots in the pecking order a few days onward as a result.

That can cause unnecessary instability, and self-doubt.

Pollard warrants another crack as top dog in the flyhalf channel, not least because the Boks, while suitably wary of putting the cart before the horse, are likely to take to the grass at Salta especially keen to strike for a four-try bonus point if it looks feasible, after plans to bag it were thwarted at Loftus.

They had to cobble together a not especially convincing, eleventh-hour Plan B in Pretoria; a likely return to more adventure-minded Plan A would suit Pollard’s known strengths.

Here’s something else to chew on: with Argentina chuffed by their securing of a losing bonus point in South Africa and likely to have plenty of fire in their bellies for the revenge quest on more familiar terrain, they will throw their bodies at the task with special, perhaps often frenzied glee.

Flyhalf is a channel where, more than many others, stout defence can be required when the heat is on, and Pollard has the bodily strength and tackling conviction to repel raiders there better than Steyn probably can.

No, the Boks should give another chance to their Pretoria template at No 10, with Pollard starting and the experienced Steyn a comforting bench presence, capable of good game time if things are going to stay tight and a wise, more conservative old brain is required to make the difference in a ding-dong scenario.

Personally, I still fancy South Africa are capable of putting game two against the Pumas to bed with some degree of ease, and primarily because of the superiority of their attacking play. And that’s where Pollard would be tasked with coming well into his own.

 Meyer picked the Paarl Gym product as his starter at pivot for well-intended reasons last weekend. He should do so again, in anticipation that those reasons will kick in ... or rather be allowed to kick in as meteorological lightning, as it were, doesn’t strike twice.

Psst, the long-range forecast for Salta on Saturday is quite stubbornly fine, whilst Wikipedia trumpets that the city in the foothills of the Andes is “famous for having very pleasant weather”.

Loftus was a minor hiccup in his development, but it’s still Pollard for me.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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