Boks still lack match-winner

Handré Pollard’s goal-kicking and game management remain a concern just two months out from the World Cup, writes JON CARDINELLI.

Fourie du Preez, Handré Pollard, Bryan Habana, Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie, JP Pietersen and Willie le Roux. This is the Springbok backline that Heyneke Meyer hopes to start in the big matches of the 2015 World Cup.

There is still a big question mark over the fitness of Du Preez, De Villiers and Fourie. Another big question is whether Pollard should start at the World Cup after some erratic kicking performances over the past few months.

Pollard is the best attacking flyhalf in South African rugby. He has proved as much over the past 18 months with some emphatic displays against the Wallabies and All Blacks.

More recently, Pollard troubled the World XV at Newlands with his fearless running and excellent distribution. At the same time, Pollard showed why he is still a work in progress. While Pollard thrived on attack, he kicked poorly out of hand and missed four of his seven attempts at goal.

There are only four games left before the start of the World Cup. Sooner rather than later, a line has to be drawn. There has to be a distinction between the player Pollard can become, and the player he is right now.

After the Boks' 46-10 win against the World XV, Meyer lamented Pollard’s wayward kicking performance in front of goal and out of hand. The Bok coach reminded everyone that it was yet another unconvincing showing by the young No 10 in the wet.

In the first match of the 2014 Rugby Championship, Pollard battled to perform in the torrential conditions at Loftus Versfeld. Later that year, he struggled when the Boks faced Ireland on a stormy night in Dublin. More recently, Pollard kicked poorly in a weather-afflicted game at Newlands.

There was a stage in the recent Vodacom Super Rugby tournament when Pollard was the top point-scorer. Unfortunately, when the Bulls toured Australasia towards the end of the campaign, Pollard’s form started to head south. He missed some important goal-kicks at crucial periods, and didn’t kick well out of hand. It cost the Bulls dearly.

Following Saturday’s match against the World XV, Meyer said that Pollard needs to rectify these shortcomings if he wants to be considered for a starting position at the World Cup. These tournaments are, after all, traditionally decided by goal-kicks and drop goals.

Stephen Donald was the difference for New Zealand in 2011. Percy Montgomery and Frans Steyn combined to steer South Africa home in 2007. And nobody would have forgotten Joel Stransky’s match-winning drop goal in the final of 1995.

Goal-kicking will be more important than ever at the global tournament staged in England this year. The grounds are a lot heavier in that part of the world, and thus not as conducive to a high-tempo game. The rain and wind will curb expansive intentions.

Pat Lambie made his comeback from the bench this past Saturday. While Pollard struggled in front of goal, Lambie converted two from two. Meyer made mention of this in the aftermath, and I’m sure the Bok coach hasn’t forgotten that it was Lambie who sunk the winning penalty goal in the Test against the All Blacks in Johannesburg last year.

And yet, for goal-kicking accuracy and temperament, neither Pollard nor Lambie holds a candle to Morné Steyn. The latter has steered the Boks to some big Test wins over the past six seasons. And he is the man in form if you remember that he scored 58 points for Stade Français in the recent Top 14 play-offs.

The Boks need to get this right. Meyer needs to back a flyhalf and goal-kicker whose time is now; a player who has the necessary skill set to win them the 2015 title.

Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images

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