Pollard's hasty recall: Bulls CAN'T be blamed

    2019-06-04 12:06

    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.

    It has 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.

    The 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.

    Acting 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.

    Right now, 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).

    It is 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.

    The Bulls 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.

    Would the 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?

    Hopefully 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 the franchise.

    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.

    Pollard is 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 silverware.

    Economic and other circumstances have made for tough times in South African rugby, and the old adage that “winning is everything” still counts for a lot.

    While they 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.

    In asking 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.

    Wouldn’t you?

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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