Handré Pollard would have learned valuable lessons from the Springboks' Rugby Championship opener but Morné Steyn is the man for Salta, writes RYAN VREDE.
I remain perplexed at the reaction to the team performance and scoreline at Loftus. Those were some of the worst conditions I've ever seen a Test match played in and that had a tremendous bearing on all aspects of the Springboks' performance. Notably, individuals were picked out as being incompetent, with Pollard among them. This is an immature response that lacks perspective.
Pollard struggled just like a number of senior players did. Certainly he would reflect on his performance with disappointment, but the lessons in there will stand him in good stead, particularly with the possibility that he will experience something similar on the northern hemisphere tour in November, and, more pertinently, at the 2015 World Cup.
Pollard has jumped the flyhalf queue in the last six months and the deputy spot to Steyn is his to lose. Indeed he could well edge Steyn as the incumbent in the next 12 months should his performance curve continue to climb as it has in 2013. But he isn't at a point where a watertight case can be made for him ahead of Steyn just yet.
Steyn settled things at Loftus when he replaced Pollard, his tactical-kicking game and decision-making under pressure were superior on the day. He would have experienced similar conditions, made the mistakes Pollard did and remedied those as a result. Saturday was critical in the process of Pollard's refinement but the return Test in Salta on Saturday demands Steyn's selection.
The Springboks laboured to their 22-17 victory in Mendoza last year and were stunned in a 16-16 draw in 2012. The Pumas find something extra on home soil and Steyn would be the safer and more logical pick in the context of the fixture's history.
Meyer may, of course, opt to test Pollard's mettle in that cauldron. I would be able to see merit in such a selection, given that Pollard certainly would not be a liability and the experience of fronting Argentina in that environment would undoubtedly accelerate his development. I wrote last week that this was a defining tournament for Meyer in terms of settling on the core of the squad he'll take to the World Cup, and entrusting Pollard with a starting berth once more would be a step towards that goal.
That said, I believe a more measured blooding of the kid would be better and Meyer is likely to go that route given his history of managing players of Pollard's ilk and the fact that he has a highly competent option in Steyn at his disposal.
On the evidence of what we've seen in Super Rugby, the Junior World Championship and in the formative phase of his Test career, Pollard is worth our faith and investment. The knee-jerk reaction to his struggle on Saturday was indicative of our immaturity as a rugby public. It was the struggle of a gifted but raw rookie, not the struggle of a terminally hopeless one.
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