Cape Town - Handre Pollard, at long last, has picked up the pace significantly in his quest to return to the personal playing standards of two or three years ago.
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The strongly-built flyhalf, often happy to play a long way out of the proverbial “pocket”, demonstrated fresh verve and confidence as he made a key, 18-minute intervention off the bench in the pulsating Test between South Africa and New Zealand at Newlands last Saturday.
But the directness and incisiveness he brought to the Bok attack, including an engineering hand in Jean-Luc du Preez’s easy-on-the-eye try, was counter-balanced by a certain, lingering rustiness as well, as his defensive play occasionally faltered a tad.
It remains fairly clear that Pollard, who has had another interrupted, continuity-lacking year due to injury, could do with solid game-time if he is really to warrant eclipsing tenuous Elton Jantjies to the No 10 jersey on the Boks’ European tour next month.
As a contracted international, he is technically not eligible for involvement in what remains of the Currie Cup.
But exceptions can be made, and that was the case in mid-September when - after much-publicised initial reluctance to comply from head coach John Mitchell - Pollard was given a spell as a substitute, at the wish of the Bok coaching staff, when the Blue Bulls went down 18-5 to the pace-setting Sharks in Durban.
In an ideal world, it made enormous sense for Pollard, following his significant new zest in the Test match, to get a follow-up berth as Bulls flyhalf for their important, ordinary season-closing match at home to the Pumas on Friday night: you would have to imagine his improved form is of interest to Mitchell.
But another potential flashpoint - or at least conundrum - at Loftus was avoided this week as Pollard could not be considered anyway for the semis-relevant Pumas date (19:00); Marnitz Boshoff stays the starting pivot for the hosts.
Springbok media manager Rayaan Adriaanse told Sport24 that the national team’s medical staff have confirmed Pollard left the Newlands pitch on Saturday with concussion; that immediately ruled him out of any Currie Cup possibilities this weekend.
“He is symptom-free and and will start with his return to play protocols next week,” he said.
While a full first-class match against the Pumas would have been a perfect scenario for improving the player’s sharpness further, it will be interesting to gauge whether Mitchell - and indeed Bok coach Allister Coetzee - see value in having Pollard play (or at least have a limited role) in the semi-final next weekend, on the assumption that the Bulls actually secure a ticket.
Certain Boks countrywide may yet see service in all remaining Currie Cup activity, considering that the final is set for Saturday, October 28, exactly a week before the Boks set off for their four-match European venture.
Pollard just seems a man significantly in need of time between the white lines, if his brand of play is, indeed, going to be valued and utilised generously in those northern climes ...
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