Psychological points will be on offer when All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett lines up against Springbok No 10 Handré Pollard in a Vodacom Super Rugby playoff this Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The All Blacks will host the Boks in Wellington on 27 July. Coaches Steve Hansen and Rassie Erasmus will be in the process of finalising selections and tactics, and the clash may present an opportunity for one or two late experiments.
It will be interesting to see how many first-choice players feature in that game. Both coaches may want to rest and manage their stars with the World Cup in mind.
On the other hand, the game may witness a few intriguing match-ups, with those involved looking to land a psychological blow ahead of the World Cup pool clash in Yokohama on 21 September.
It remains to be seen how those selections will play out. What we know for certain, however, is that the best players will feature for their respective Super Rugby franchises over the next three weeks.
The Bulls will deploy every Bok they have when they face the Hurricanes in Wellington. The Sharks should do the same when they tackle the Brumbies in Canberra.
It remains to be seen if Barrett and Pollard will collide in the Rugby Championship. At the very least they will meet at the Cake Tin on Saturday, a meeting that could serve as a precursor to their battle at the World Cup.
BARRETT vs POLLARD ATTACK STATS IN 2019
|103 (9)||3 (72)||6 (9=)||2 (195)||14 (8=)|
|188 (1)||3 (72)||9 (1=)||4 (124)||19 (2)|
Tournament rank in brackets
The Bulls haven’t featured in a playoff since 2013. While Pollard started for the Boks in the playoffs of the 2015 World Cup, he is yet to play a knockout match at Super Rugby level.
The coaches and players will tell you that a playoff in New Zealand is a daunting task. The Lions lost the 2016 and 2018 finals staged in Wellington and Christchurch, respectively. The travel factor detracted from their effort, and yet few if any will argue that the Hurricanes and Crusaders were more clinical and accurate on the day of the decider.
Pollard has played some big games in Wellington. He started against the All Blacks at the Cake Tin back in 2014. Heyneke Meyer was criticised in the buildup for backing the then 20-year-old, but Pollard shone in the narrow defeat.
Four years later, Pollard was at the centre of the Boks’ famous victory over the All Blacks at the same venue.
South Africa’s premier flyhalf has scored more points (188) than any other player over the course of the regular season. More should be read, though, into his recent showing against the Lions at Loftus Versfeld.
Pollard outclassed Shaun Reynolds and Jantjies – who started at 12 but was often at first-receiver – to guide his side to a monumental win. That showing bodes well for the Bulls ahead of a quarter-final clash with the Hurricanes. It’s also a good sign for the Boks.
BARRETT vs POLLARD DEFENCE AND KICK STATS IN 2019
|17 (66)||106 (4)||3455 (4)||
|22 (28)||100 (5)||3242 (8)||
Tournament rank in brackets
Barrett has blown hot and cold over the past two years. We’ve come to expect so much from the All Blacks flyhalf, and it’s fair to say that he didn’t live up to his own standards in the 2018 season.
Ireland beat the All Blacks to the World Rugby Team of the Year accolade. Johnny Sexton was widely recognised as the form flyhalf on the Test scene.
Perhaps Barrett and the New Zealanders are merely timing their run in the buildup to the World Cup. The Kiwi franchises haven’t been as dominant in the 2019 Super Rugby tournament as in previous seasons. Perhaps that will change in the coming weeks, with Barrett and the other All Blacks shifting into playoff mode.
The Hurricanes will take some beating in Wellington, and it will take something special for Pollard to outplay Barrett in his own backyard. That said, a big performance – win or lose – will echo through to the World Cup.
SPRINGBOK INJURY LIST*
|TRAVIS ISMAIEL||Wing||Shoulder||Late June|
|JESSE KRIEL||Centre||Ankle||This week|
|WARREN WHITELEY||Loose forward||Knee||Late July|
|SIKHUMBUZO NOTSHE||Loose forward||Ankle||Mid-July|
|PIETER-STEPH DU TOIT||Loose forward||Shoulder||Mid-July|
|JEAN-LUC DU PREEZ||Loose forward||Knee||Mid-July|
|SIYA KOLISI||Loose forward||Knee||Mid-July|
|KWAGGA SMITH||Loose forward||Hamstring||TBC|
|LOOD DE JAGER||Lock||Shoulder||Late July|
|JASON JENKINS||Lock||Calf||This week|
|SCHALK BRITS||Hooker||Concussion||This week|
|AKKER VAN DER MERWE||Hooker||Shoulder||Late June|
*Players who featured for the Boks in 2018
Photo: Getty Images/BackpagePix