Handré Pollard faces the toughest test of his short international career but his selection is a gamble Heyneke Meyer didn't need to take, writes RYAN VREDE.
Unless Morné Steyn is injured – which was not communicated through the official press release on the team – or so mentally damaged from his match-shaping error last week that he would have been a liability (unlikely for a professional of over a decade) I don't see the sense in his omission from not only the starting lineup but the match 23 entirely.
Meyer was quoted as saying that Pollard 'has the right skill set for how we want to approach this game'. I'm not sure what that means. At the Bulls, Pollard is required to play a game that prioritises territorial dominance through tactical kicking, which is precisely what the Springboks require against the All Blacks in Wellington this weekend. There's no better flyhalf in the Springbok squad than Steyn to achieve this objective.
Or perhaps Meyer intends to ask Pollard to run at the Blacks, in which case they will lose by 20-plus points. They just don't have the strike runners to consistently breach the gainline (and earn the right to play expansively), nor the skill in the back division to unhinge the Blacks with the consistency they would need to. Lest we forget, Pollard will also play behind a pack that is yet to impose itself in a meaningful way in the Rugby Championship, and with a scrumhalf in Ruan Pienaar who continues to betray his talent.
I hope Steyn is carrying some sort of injury – physical or mental – that precludes him from selection. Failing that, I can only conclude that Meyer was swayed by immense public pressure to axe the flyhalf and start a supremely gifted but raw young man in his most crucial position, in their most important Test of the year and against the best side in the world.
It would be deeply disappointing if Meyer has indeed bowed to such pressure. It would also be out of character and evidence that he's starting, for the first time, to feel the strain of the job in a very real way.
Of course, there is very little downside to picking Pollard. I've written before that I believe him to be the future of Springbok rugby at 10. A good game would vindicate Meyer's decision to start him and elevate his confidence to a stratospheric level. On the flip side, he would recover from a poor one and move on to build a successful Test career.
So the premise of my argument is certainly not that Pollard is a bad call, just that it's a puzzling one in the context of where the Springboks are at in the tournament and in the context of the tactical demands of the next Test.
All that said, If Pollard is Meyer's man he has to be that going through to the World Cup. He cannot turn to Steyn once more if things go badly this weekend. Pollard must then start the home Tests against Australia and New Zealand, steer the ship on the year-end tour and through 2015 until the tournament in England. If this is the case, Steyn's omission from this weekend's clash would be understandable.
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