Cape Town - At the age of 21, Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard is already considered one of the key players in the South African game.
When Pollard spearheaded the Junior Springboks to the 2012 Junior World Championship title at the age of 18, it was believed that the young flyhalf would quickly become a big name in South African rugby.
As the first schoolboy to play for the SA Under-20s, he showed great composure and ability on the field, excelling on a stage surrounded by older players, most of them two years his senior. This successful experience would see Pollard surge through the national rugby ranks.
In 2013, during his first year out of school, he played Varsity Cup rugby for Tuks and made his Vodacom Cup and Currie Cup debuts for the Blue Bulls.
The 2014 season proved to be his major breakthrough. After making his Super Rugby debut for the Bulls, he went on to captain the Junior Springboks to second place at the Junior World Championships in New Zealand.
His impressive form was rewarded with a surprise late call-up to the senior Springbok squad for the June International Series. He played his first Test for South Africa when he started during the 55-6 victory against Scotland in Port Elizabeth.
This year, he’s established himself as the Bulls’ first-choice flyhalf, and has been a regular starter for the Springboks ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Pollard credited the mentorship he received from senior players and coaches for his ability to cope with the pressure of playing senior rugby at an early age.
“It’s been an incredible journey so far. A few years ago, I found myself watching the Springboks on TV as a schoolboy. And today, I train with many of my childhood heroes. For a young player, that’s a pretty amazing experience, but on the other hand, it’s not a simple adjustment to make,” Pollard told MyPlayers.co.za.
“I’m thankful that the coaches and senior players have provided great support. Guys like Jean de Villiers are always there when I need advice or direction, which is important at Test level.
“The major lessons I’ve learned is to do the basics right and to be patient. Because of my quick promotion to senior rugby, I had to learn this quickly. You can’t afford to make mistakes at the higher levels of rugby as you will get punished, especially in a key position like flyhalf. With time and great mentorship, I continuously learn how to make the right decisions.”
So what advice does Pollard have for young players making finding their own way through the South African rugby ranks?
“Make the most of every opportunity, especially at age-group level,” says Pollard. “Gain all the experience you can and learn from it. My time with the Junior Springboks and during the Varsity Cup and age-group provincial tournaments allowed me to find my feet. I learned many valuable lessons, which I still use today at senior level.”
Pollard added that a strong support base is vital for all young players.
“I’m lucky to have a strong support group around me. My friends and family are always there when I need them,” says Pollard. “Before and after every game, I always have a chat with my parents and my girlfriend.
“During my free time, I spend time with friends. It’s nice to get away from rugby every now and then to clear my head. Away from the field, I enjoy some golf, spending time outdoors, watching movies or chilling at the local coffee cafe with good company.”
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