Boks: Pollard could do a 'Carter'

2015-09-30 13:04
Handre Pollard (Gallo)

Newcastle – The great All Blacks flyhalf Dan Carter, currently playing his final World Cup tournament at the age of 33, has won a dozen of his 107 Test caps thus far at inside centre.

Admittedly the lion’s share of them came in the very rookie phase of his prestigious career, when New Zealand were happy to keep Carlos Spencer pulling the strings at No 10.

Yet Carter’s versatility – among his many other glittering attributes – always ensured he was at least a viable “option” at twelve, and the Crusaders were certainly not shy to put him in midfield in much more recent years whenever it suited their formula.

The ability to shift seamlessly between the two important channels is often seen as an additional sign of a modern, multi-skilled footballer, which we know beyond dispute that Carter is.

So the Springboks, whose stocks are suddenly a little depleted at No 12 considering the uncertainty over Damian de Allende’s right knee for Saturday’s RWC 2015 clash with Scotland here and Jean de Villiers’s unfortunate tournament and Test-career exit, could do an awful lot worse at present than give proper thought to fielding Handre Pollard in the slot at St James’ Park.

He may only be a precocious 21, but already the Bulls player boasts 15 Test appearances, almost exclusively stationed at flyhalf although he finished last weekend’s triumph over Samoa at centre because of a damaging late sequence of injuries to backline players.

With De Villiers ruled out, it should be full steam ahead now for the much-trumpeted but still fairly naive De Allende-Jesse Kriel alliance in the Bok midfield ... except that the former is labouring a little with his knee problem and was in considerable doubt ahead of Wednesday’s (18:00 SA time) team announcement.

The Boks have flown in Jan Serfontein at short notice, a reasonably assuring development considering his two-year knowledge of the national team’s set-up and own 21 caps.

But the former Baby Boks wunderkind has not been in the most champagne of form in recent times, struggling even to nail down the Blue Bulls’ No 12 jersey in the Currie Cup ahead of the vibrant, powerful and clever-stepping Burger Odendaal – quite possibly another good candidate to plug the De Villiers hole somewhere down the line.

He offers stoutness and graft, but that Danie Gerber-like ability to thrillingly cut the line which he showed two or three years ago seems to have strangely gone to the back-burner for him and he has looked disappointingly formulaic, if you like, more recently.

It does beg the intriguing question: should coach Heyneke Meyer seriously consider fielding two pretty in-form flyhalves, Pollard and Pat Lambie, alongside each other against the Scots?

Keep in mind that Pollard comes off a convincing showing against the Samoans - that after being put under unusually strong mental pressure from Meyer publicly beforehand to excel – while Lambie, who got a late, enforced run off the bench in Birmingham, had been no less impressive at pivot the last time the Boks won a match, against Argentina in Buenos Aires ahead of the World Cup.

The thought of the emerging duo of Lambie and Pollard orchestrating moves right beside each other in a Bok backline is a tantalising one, especially given that the latter has the perfect physical attributes and necessary fearlessness to police – not to mention potentially enliven -- the No 12 area with aplomb.

Also to consider is that Lambie could do a lot more than “not disgrace” at centre himself: he may not be the biggest back on the park much of the time, but he doesn’t shirk his duties on the tackling front and has good peripheral vision for attacking opportunities.

With some luck, the Boks will yet be able to reunite the De Allende-Kriel combination against Scotland, ending the dilemma over how to structure their midfield at the imposing, more than 50,000-capacity home of Newcastle United.

But Lambie/Pollard, or even the other way around, at Nos 10 and 12?

It shouldn’t be discounted.

The potential is intriguing.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing. Rob is attending the Bok pool phase of RWC 2015 to provide news and analysis for Sport24 readers.

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