Cape Town - The win his Junior Springbok team scored in Sunday’s exciting age-group semi-final in New Zealand may have prevented Handre Pollard from making his senior debut much quicker than he may have anticipated.
According to the supersport.com website, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has made no secret of how highly he regards Pollard and has indicated that the Bulls pivot is definitely under consideration for next year’s World Cup. There were whispers earlier this month that Pollard could find himself getting an opportunity for the Boks as early as sometime during the June series if the Junior Boks got knocked out early, with everything hinging on their pool game against the Kiwis 10 days ago.
Had the Junior Boks made an early exit, Pollard could have been the solution to a potential flyhalf crisis in the squad now that Johan Goosen is doubtful for the rest of the series because of a knee injury sustained in this past weekend’s 38-16 win over Wales in Durban. Goosen limped off not long after coming onto the field and Meyer admitted afterwards that Goosen was the big concern looking ahead to next week’s second test in Nelspruit.
With Pollard now committed to an important final later in the week, Lions No 10 Marnitz Boshoff could well find himself getting game time off the bench in Nelspruit, although it also has to be said that Ruan Pienaar sent out a reminder at Kings Park that while he may be an unreliable bet as a starting flyhalf, he can be pretty polished as a replacement.
Pienaar certainly looked more the part when he deputized at flyhalf in the second half than he did as a scrumhalf in the match against the World XV the previous week, though to be fair it has to be conceded that the Boks got the ball back from the breakdowns far quicker in the first test of the season than they did in Cape Town.
Fourie du Preez would have rivalled Willie le Roux and Francois Louw for the right to be recognised as South Africa’s most valuable player against Wales, with the vice-captain’s polished performance at the base and around the fringes playing a significant role in injecting much more incisiveness to the back division and to the Bok attacking play in general than was the case the previous week.
And with Du Preez back alongside him, Morne Steyn provided one of his best all-round performances at flyhalf, thus erasing, at least for now, what seems to be a perennial question mark hanging over the incumbent.
Meyer said last week that he is trying to negotiate with Du Preez’s Japanese employers to have him available for the bulk of the 2014 international season, and on the evidence of his showing in Durban, it is to be hoped that he succeeds in that quest.
Apart from the probable change to the bench, the only other possible change for Nelspruit may be the return of Flip van der Merwe for Bakkies Botha at lock. Botha went off with the flare up of an Achilles tendon complaint at the 40 minute mark in Durban and is also a doubtful starter for the second test, but even if he wasn’t, it should be assumed that Van der Merwe would be the first choice back-up to Eben Etzebeth as the No 4 lock.
Not that there was anything wrong with Botha’s performance in a first half where, apart from a dicey opening four minutes, the Bok forwards completely dominated their opponents.