Handré Pollard has received plaudits from his coach and captain alike in the wake of a match-clinching kicking performance at St James’ Park, reports JON CARDINELLI in Newcastle.
Pollard scored 19 points in the Springboks’ 34-16 win against Scotland on Saturday. The flyhalf converted seven of his eight attempts on goal, and also contributed a drop goal.
And yet stats alone won’t do Pollard’s performance justice. One needs to consider his potentially game-costing mistake in the second stanza of Saturday’s match. Then one needs to consider his response under unbelievable pressure.
In the aftermath, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer and captain Fourie du Preez admitted to being more than a little relieved.
In the 49th minute of the contest, Pollard threw a flat pass that was intercepted and led to a Scotland try. Meyer and Du Preez both felt that the intercept signalled a shift in momentum.
However, Pollard hit back later in the game. He slotted a drop goal in the 63rd minute to extend the Boks’ lead to 10 points. Six minutes later, Pollard stepped up to a sink a penalty from 50m out. Those kicks took the game away from Scotland.
‘We needed to restore that 10-point gap to give ourselves some breathing room,’ said Du Preez of the first kick. ‘Nothing was said between Handré and I, it was more just a look in the eyes.
‘Credit to Handré. He was the one who threw that intercept. His response says everything you need to know. The youngster stood up to hit a drop goal and then a long-range penalty. It was a helluva comeback.’
Du Preez said the team was under immense pressure to win this match and strengthen their claim for a World Cup play-off place. The past two weeks since the shock loss to Japan have not been easy for the senior players or the coaches.
‘I haven’t felt pressure like this before. I’d say there’s been more pressure on us now than there was in that 2007 World Cup final,’ the veteran scrumhalf said. ‘We had to slow down the game, and really grind out the result. We had a lot to lose in this fixture.
'We would have loved to score the bonus point, but we will take the win. If we get five log points against the USA on Wednesday, we will finish at the top of the log.’
Meyer felt that the performances of the two halfbacks, as well as locks Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager, shaped the result.
‘We were under even more pressure this week after losing two captains to injuries [Jean de Villiers and then Victor Matfield],’ said the Bok coach. ‘Fourie kept the guys calm. He ensured the team stuck to the plan, and really managed that 10-12-13 combination well. Handré’s tactical play and goal-kicking was another big plus.
‘As for the locks, we had to change the lineout calls this week, which was a bit risky especially given the lack of experience and the fact that Lood doesn’t even call the lineouts at the Cheetahs.
‘I knew this was going to be the area where the match was won. Eben and Lood were brilliant on our ball, and also put Scotland under pressure. It was a huge step up. The future of South Africa's locks looks really bright.’
Photo: Matt Lewis/Getty Images