Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - As
long as he will not have to play on one leg, as it were, the Bulls asking blue-chip
player Handre Pollard to rejoin their ranks for the closing Super Rugby tour
fixture against the Highlanders on Friday is justifiable.
raised some eyebrows back in South Africa, and understandably so, given rapidly
approaching Springbok needs: national coach Rassie Erasmus will desperately
wish for Pollard to be at his flyhalf post, where he remains the runaway first
choice, and feeling suitably fresh for the 2019 Rugby Championship.
shortened tournament this year serves as a simultaneous, preparatory arena for the
World Cup, and begins for South Africa with a date against Australia at
Emirates Airline Park on July 20 – now fewer than seven weeks away.
captain Pollard played a massive role in the Bulls’ first game of their perilously
late-campaign Australasian mission, as they stirringly beat the Rebels 32-17 in
Melbourne, and while it was always the plan to provide him with a break
elsewhere on the tour, he was then ruled out of the Brumbies match (22-10) and
Blues encounter (the visitors snatched a late 22-22 draw) due to a calf strain.
He duly flew
home, with the expectation in many circles that he would remain here and be
ready for the last tussle of ordinary season, at home to the Lions on June 15.
however, the Bulls’ continued challenge for knockout-phase status could well
hinge on whether they can topple the Highlanders - a relatively tall order - in
Dunedin on Friday (09:35 SA time).
possible that if they don’t, and other results fail to favour them during the
weekend, their race will be run even in the event that they win the
cross-Hennops derby a week later: such is the tight range in which numerous
teams trade in roughly mid-table on the overall log.
are very much part of that claustrophobic scramble, currently sitting in
seventh overall and third on the SA conference ladder.
They have 34
points, so even a losing bonus point, should they be defeated but run the
Highlanders close, might yet be highly useful if a big Loftus charge against
the Lions then offers them the potential to climb to 40 and still a good chance
of squeezing through the eight-team finals series funnel.
Bulls be so ill-advised as to rush Pollard back for the Dunedin crunch (the
Highlanders are in even more of a must-win situation, by the way) if he hasn’t
properly recovered from the calf issue?
not; they should have plenty of the player’s own interests at heart.
So on the
assumption that he is raring to go again, the fatiguing effects of flying him
long-haul to the match are significantly offset by the high stakes involved for
Keep this in
mind: the still only 25-year-old Pollard has been a yeoman servant to the Bulls
since his much-publicised switch from Cape Town to Pretoria as a raw prospect
in 2013 (he made his Super Rugby debut for them in 2014).
But it is
also official now that his healthy stint at Loftus ends with the completion of
the latest Super Rugby season … along with several other big-name Bulls players
like Jesse Kriel, RG Snyman and Lood de Jager.
to join French outfit Montpellier, and the Bulls look like being as badly
stymied by top-tier defections as any other South African franchise from next
year, when a significant rebuild job will be required.
It is just
too easy to say that “New Zealand wouldn’t treat a player like this” in a World
Cup year … that nation are defending champions, still boast formidable domestic
depth as their best players remain largely home-based, and their sides so
customarily also monopolise both the Rugby Championship and Super Rugby
other circumstances have made for tough times in South African rugby, and the
old adage that “winning is everything” still counts for a lot.
remain in 2019 contention, the Bulls can hardly be blamed for doing everything
they possibly can to end the SA trophy drought in Super Rugby - one that stretches
back to 2010 when the very same Bulls last won it and drew crowds that simply
cannot be compared to the depressingly flimsy attendances of today.
Pollard to play in the Dunedin crunch, they are simply making a desperate late
bid to maximise one of their prime investments while they still can.
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