Handré Pollard is growing rapidly into the influential player most envisioned he would be, writes RYAN VREDE.
Heyneke Meyer's track record of identifying and recruiting gifted young players is unsurpassed and in Pollard he bagged a gem for the Bulls. The Springbok coach, then acting in his capacity as Bulls head coach, first saw Pollard as a 16-year-old playing for Western Province in a junior interprovincial tournament and quickly moved to sell him on the merits of a move to the Bulls.
His decision to sign for the Pretoria-based franchise two years ago elicited cries of despair from the Cape faithful, whose excitement peaked when they watched the then schoolboy steer the Baby Boks to the Junior World Championship title shortly before he announced his decision to move north.
Meyer had outlined his plan for him at the Bulls exactly when they met to discuss the details of that move. What you see now is an outworking of the stated plan. He was identified and recruited as Morné Steyn's successor, and while Pollard's development has been fast tracked given Louis Fouché's struggles, he has looked like he is dwelling in a world he belongs in.
Indeed he is starting to assert himself in a manner only the best Super Rugby rookie flyhalves do – without spectacular showings but with enough authority in his performances to stir optimism about his future beyond the tournament. Clearly he is supremely talented, but talent without temperament doesn't ensure success and longevity as a professional at the game's elite level. His career is in its infancy, but Pollard has shown signs that suggest he possesses that critical commodity.
He has a broad range of technical skills, the physical constitution to dominate on defence and attack, while he has observably grown rapidly in his appreciation of the tactical subtleties the game demands. On the last point, I don't share the widely-held fear the Bulls' perceived pragmatic game plan spoiling him. That game plan has proven to be extremely successful over the past decade and the skills set required to succeed within that tactical framework was at the heart of Morné Steyn's rise to international prominence. In the context of grooming him for a Test future, I certainly thank the rugby gods that Pollard is under the Bulls' stewardship, as opposed to being poisoned by the clueless coaches at the Stormers.
My view is that calls for Pollard to be elevated to the Springboks later this year are premature. Let us remember that he has only played 10 Super Rugby matches. I'd like to see his response under heightened pressure, which is why, if you're a Springbok fan, you want to see him play in the knockout rounds of Super Rugby. I'd like to see his response to struggle or failure in those situations because that will give us greater insight into what he is made of mentally.
Yet the bulk of the South African rugby fraternity have been swept away by their insatiable appetite for the next big thing, when their concern should be ensuring we don't spoil talents of Pollard's ilk by tossing them into the cauldron of Test rugby too early. There's a case to be made for some players of his age playing Test rugby, and I don't doubt Pollard won't be exposed as an impostor should his call up come sooner than I hope for. However, there isn't a desperate need for change at flyhalf for the Springboks. Steyn will retain the shirt, while Johan Goosen will deputise. Both have previous Test experience and at this stage Goosen remains Meyer's preferred successor to Steyn.
Pollard has every chance to challenge that view in the coming years.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images