Cape Town - In some respects, you might say the constructive development got a little lost in the Padova gloom.
But the combined, bright showing of Handre Pollard and second-half substitute Elton Jantjies in the Springbok flyhalf spot went quite some way to ensuring the comfort, at least in scoreboard terms, of their otherwise “hard yards” 35-6 triumph over Italy last Saturday.
A tougher examination awaits the Boks as they take on Wales in a season-ending clash in Cardiff this weekend, so a continuation of the welcome harmony at No 10 may be vital to the quest to end another bumpy year with a third victory on the trot.
Pollard, seemingly much closer to the best standards he demonstrated often enough during the Heyneke Meyer coaching tenure of the Boks – and before he succumbed to serious injury -- was consistently authoritative for the 66-minute shift he had against the Azzurri.
He made a powerful mini-break, using his near-100kg frame to telling effect, before offloading out of contact to Francois Louw for the nerve-settling first Bok try, and then later in the first half also teed up Francois Venter’s touchdown with a deftly-weighed cross-kick in the tricky breeze.
It was an educated, quick-thinking decision that might well, frankly, have earned the flyhalf more praise had his first name been “Beauden”; some Boks enthusiasts and observers have become so cynical that they forget to fully credit certain little moments of game-breaking artistry.
Pollard also won a 50-50 type of aerial contest, where his physical credentials again came usefully to the fore, and landed all his goals - in stark contrast to his misfiring in that regard in Paris a week earlier.
It was arguably the most assertive performance by a Bok No 10 since very early in this year’s Castle Rugby Championship, when Jantjies produced successive cutting-edge showings in the triumphs over Argentina (37-15 at home, and 41-23 away).
More recently, the enigmatic Lions player had receded badly again, to the point that Pollard forced his way back into the starting mix against France a couple of weeks back.
To his eternal credit, however, Jantjies clearly hasn’t thrown a “strop” over his demotion to the bench, and when he got 14 late minutes in Padova he only maintained the polish earlier shown by the first-choice in the role.
Jantjies was refreshingly direct and fleet-footed himself, so his crime, if that is the right word, may well be that at least for the foreseeable future he will be seen as an appealing impact alternative to incumbent Pollard – with a slightly different skill set, which can be handy – from the bench.
The Boks don’t have the most muscular of backlines as a whole right now, so Pollard is an important balancer in many senses in the often busy No 10 channel, and as long as he is playing the type of rugby we know from past experience he is capable of, rival Jantjies might have to settle for second-half infusions.
There is no doubting Jantjies’ array of gifts, but he has struggled more often than not to replicate at Test level the sort of game-bossing qualities he is renowned for at Super Rugby level with his beloved Highveld-based franchise.
So is it possibly more suitable for him to enter international matches at times when a game has already been “broken open” in many senses and he may enjoy more of a luxury to play impulsively and with greater freedom?
The fact that he has stayed on with the Boks for the out-of-window game against Wales, after initial suggestions that he would hook up with his Japanese club, tends to suggest that Allister Coetzee and company are particularly keen to see a repeat of the Pollard-Jantjies combined 80-minute spread against the Welsh.
Bear in mind that if circumstances warrant a more fulsome contribution by the left-footed Jantjies, Pollard could quite feasibly be deployed alongside him at inside centre, a role quite a few good judges think he could be very effective at in Tests.
One thing seems certain: if the No 10 alliance works crisply again at the Principality Stadium, the duo can put beyond all doubt for the June home series challenge against England their status as the premier Bok pivots.
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