The impressive performances of André Esterhuizen and Damian de Allende have served as a reminder that there is no need to consider shifting Handré Pollard to inside centre at Springbok level, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
When Bok coach Rassie Erasmus contemplates his selection options for the June Test series against England, he must be feeling pretty chipper when it comes to the midfield stocks available.
In fact, it speaks volumes that there was hardly much more than a minor ripple of concern when news broke that Jan Serfontein – arguably the best back on display for the Boks last year – was unlikely to be available for the June Tests due to injury.
It’s understood that Erasmus holds Frans Steyn in high regard and believes the experienced Montpellier midfielder could add real value to the squad, but even so, there are suddenly some genuine local contenders for that No 12 jersey.
For one, De Allende finally appears to have rediscovered the form and fitness that saw him set the local and international scene alight during a memorable 2015 season.
The 26-year-old has always been blessed with size and strength, but this year his deceptive pace has been encouragingly back up to speed, while he looks increasingly inclined to look for a pass rather than contact.
This much was perfectly illustrated this past Saturday as De Allende darted between two Bulls defenders, feigned to offload with one hand, before perfectly timing a no-look pass for SP Marais to score a crucial try.
Esterhuizen is another player who has evolved from a midfield battering ram into a dynamic dangerman for the Sharks, with the 24-year-old currently ranked equal-fifth for clean breaks (17) and equal-seventh for offloads (14) in the Super Rugby ranks.
Back in April, Sharks assistant coach Dick Muir aptly summed up the evolution Esterhuizen has undergone since a productive pre-season stint experiencing a high-paced game in Japan.
‘His running lines have been great this season; his passing and offloading are like nothing we have seen from him before, and his defence is more disciplined, but no less effective,’ Muir raved.
By all accounts, Esterhuizen looks built for Test rugby, and his most recent form must surely bring him into the Bok reckoning for June. De Allende also appears to be a strong contender for a starting berth, while Steyn may no longer be an automatic selection if Erasmus does provide locally-based players with a preference.
However, certain whispers in rugby circles have also suggested that the new Bok coach is not adverse to the idea of considering Pollard as an option at inside centre at some stage down the line.
Against certain opposition, an argument could certainly be made for backing two ‘flyhalves’ in a 10-12 combination that would boast distribution and kicking strengths.
During a chat I had with John Mitchell during the pre-season, the Bulls coach also expressed his belief that Pollard was capable of fulfilling a role at 12 for the Boks based on the skill set and physical profile that he possesses.
With Elton Jantjies or Damian Willemse at flyhalf, and Pollard at 12, the opposing defence would undoubtedly have plenty to think about. Alternatively, a pairing between Rob du Preez and Pollard could offer immense physicality.
It’s all food for thought, but it’s a prospect that should be banished to the scrapheap for now. Pollard has looked increasingly confident after an injury-free spell of rugby this season, and there is every reason to believe he will retain the No 10 jersey this June.
In De Allende, Esterhuizen, Steyn and Serfontein (when fit), the Boks will already have a headache in selecting their first-choice No 12, while in-form Jesse Kriel and Lukhanyo Am look likely to battle it out for the outside centre berth.
In the midfield at least, Erasmus is blessed with options, and it means any thought of shifting Pollard out of position can be shelved at least for now.
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