The goal-kicking and game management of Handré Pollard will need to be on point for the Springboks to beat the All Blacks in Wellington, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Heyneke Meyer picked Pollard to start in the Springboks' first two Tests of the 2014 Rugby Championship. It was a shrewd move, and one made with the future in mind.
Meyer needed to see how Pollard responded in a high-pressure environment. Errors were to be expected from a 20 year old, but more than anything, Meyer was looking for a sign that Pollard was ready for the responsibility at the elite level.
A month later, and it seems Pollard has done enough to convince Meyer that he deserves the ultimate responsibility of starting against the All Blacks in New Zealand. It doesn't get any bigger than that.
Veteran flyhalf Morné Steyn has been axed from the squad after making a game-costing mistake in last week's Test against the Wallabies. It's a big decision by Meyer, and needless to say, the man tasked with starting at No 10 this Saturday will need to be more accurate.
Meyer has explained the decision by stating that the Boks need Pollard's skill set for this particular match. Pollard is the superior attacking option, and has the potential to bring the Boks' dangerous outside backs into the game.
Perhaps the Boks have taken note of the All Blacks' injury situation. New Zealand have lost flyhalf Dan Carter, their prime tactical-kicking weapon. Lock Sam Whitelock has been ruled out as has flanker Liam Messam.
Whitelock's omission is huge in the context of the set-piece battle, and the Boks, through lineout kingpin Victor Matfield, will feel confident that they can provide the likes of Pollard with a great attacking platform.
That said, the pressure is on the youngster to make the right decisions. In a game of this magnitude, the margin for error is minute.
Pollard made a series of handling errors and some poor tactical decisions in the two Tests against Argentina. The Boks got away with it against the Pumas, who weren't good enough to capitailse on those mistakes. They won't get away with such errors when they play the All Blacks.
It would be unfair to judge a 20 year old too harshly, and great things are expected of Pollard over the next decade. However, Meyer has made a statement in picking Pollard ahead of Steyn for this game, and the message is that the youngster is ready to deliver.
His goal-kicking for both the Boks and the Bulls has been good, but his tactical kicking needs to improve. The Boks can't expect to beat the All Blacks by running everything back.
Of course, the forwards could make Pollard's life a lot easier this Saturday by dominating their New Zealand counterparts. The Boks will need to win the collisions, and Francois Louw has to edge Richie McCaw in the breakdown battle.
Bismarck du Plessis has been benched for the second successive game, but could have a big role to play in the second half. He so nearly won the Test in Perth with that breakdown turnover in the 76th minute.
The Boks pulverised the All Blacks pack in Dunedin two years ago, but were let down by some wayward goal-kicking. This is something to bear in mind ahead of the coming game in Wellington. Pollard is not only under pressure to produce in general play, but in front of goal as well.
To be fair, the All Blacks were always going to be favourites to win this clash, regardless of who started at No 10 for the Boks. They have not lost a Test since 2012, and have not lost in New Zealand since 2009.
Starting Steyn ahead of Pollard may have increased the Boks' chances of an upset, though. Picking Pollard is a bold move by Meyer, who is so often called conservative by the ignorant and uneducated members of the rugby community. On this occasion, however, I think the bold move could be the wrong one.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: All Blacks 50, Springboks 34, Draw 3
In Wellington: All Blacks 8, Springboks 3, Draw 1.
POLLARD'S STATS THAT MATTER
100% – His goal-kicking record in this year's Rugby Championship (6/6)
16 – The number of points he has scored (Rank 5)
10 – The number of times he has kicked from hand (Rank 12)
48 – The number of metres he has run (Rank 52)
Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App
All Blacks – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Jeremy Thrush, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Joe Moody, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Malakai Fekitoa.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Warren Whiteley, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Damian de Allende.
Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix