Pollard right Bok fit for Pumas

2014-08-05 13:00
Handré Pollard (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has made some unusually assertive, attack-minded noises early this week.

They are noises I, for one, am interpreting to mean that the “safe” combination of experienced Ruan Pienaar and Morné Steyn in the key No 9 and 10 channels is not quite the fait accompli some may believe it is at the outset of the Castle Rugby Championship.

That’s not to say he won’t start with them in those respective jerseys; I just fancy that doing so would put him a little at odds with his latest, forcefully-stated intentions, given that neither player traditionally comes to the party dripping in X-factor ... and he will know it.

Less than a fortnight out from the opener against Argentina at Loftus, Meyer has reportedly reiterated firmly at Highveld media briefings not only his desire to continue the upward trend in try-scoring by his charges, but also to land more bonus points in this year’s competition if South Africa are to get their name etched on the four-nation event’s trophy for the first time.

His thoughts are likely to be regarded as manna from heaven by domestic rugby enthusiasts who are disillusioned by overly conservative, one-dimensional game-plans adopted by some of the big SA franchises in Super Rugby this year - strategies that arguably contributed to one of the country’s leanest collective showings in years.

Certainly from last year onward, nobody can accuse Meyer - now entering what he calls his “toughest” third year in charge - of a Test-level obsession with structure and predictability, even if he will always advocate an uncompromising pack of forwards with a hungry work ethic.

Throughout 2013 and during the June 2014 Test window period, the Boks have not only displayed an obvious relish for manufacturing tries, but had success in registering them in a variety of ways and from all angles and positions on the field.

Generally, too, they boast the personnel - evidenced in Meyer’s 30-strong party announced on Saturday - to maintain an up-tempo approach, even if the coach quite correctly reminded what an “unbelievable setback” it was not having the Midas Touch of Fourie du Preez at scrumhalf for the remainder of the year.

“Fourie brought a lot to our team, especially in attack,” Meyer was quoted as saying, pointing also to the crucial strength of his option-taking and instinctive awareness of when and how to exploit opposition defensive holes.

He might have mentioned the power and precision of both Du Preez’s short and longer pass, too: just another reason why the Boks could always feel confident there’d be space to probe and thus good opportunities to cross the chalk.

Most critics seem to feel that Meyer will maintain the attribute of experience at scrumhalf by summoning Pienaar (76 caps, albeit many as a substitute, since 2006) to plug the Du Preez gap, ahead of other squad options Francois Hougaard and rookie Cobus Reinach.

The Ulster-based player has often before failed to replicate excellent club form in the northern hemisphere at international level, but the known strength of his kicking game probably counts in his favour over the other pair.

But if a nod for Pienaar does turn out to be the case, it raises an associated question: can South Africa really expect to prosper in the wider positions with both Pienaar and Steyn, another seasoned character but also more cautious and readable in playing style at the highest level, pulling the strings and nine and 10?

A personal suspicion is not: one established “banker” might make sense, but the Boks run the risk of just losing a certain something in the creativity department if that is the combination charged with being the conduit between forwards and outside backs.

Maybe, just maybe, Meyer’s adventurous mood this week is a signal that the 20-year-old Handré Pollard, with his off-loading flair and willingness to put his body on the line by surging toward the advantage line, is reasonably strongly in the frame for retention at flyhalf after his sparkling baptism in the 55-6 rout of Scotland in Port Elizabeth.

It is an inescapable thought among many pundits - and I’m right with them - that by the time the UK-staged World Cup comes along in late 2015, Pollard will have worked his way to being first-choice No 10.

So why dilly-dally over his inclusion at this point?

Meyer has often said himself that he wants younger members of his mix to have assembled as many caps as possible before RWC 2015, and you have to assume the long-time IRB Junior World Championship wunderkind now counts among them.

If Pollard wasn’t over-awed on Test debut against the Scots, then why should he be a debilitating, bundle of nerves against the frankly vulnerable, rebuilding Pumas at his Bulls franchise home ground a week on Saturday?

It just seems a glorious, frankly low-risk opportunity to further his Test-level blooding, even if some mistakes should be considered as inevitable from him, and tolerated.

At the very worst, here’s hoping Pollard gets half an hour or more of exposure against Argentina, even if Meyer can’t quite bring himself to start him at the expense of former Loftus blue-eyed boy Steyn ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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