Ice-cool Handré Pollard goes into the crucial derby at Loftus Versfeld with a significant advantage over the volatile Elton Jantjies, writes JON CARDINELLI.
There will be plenty at stake when the Vodacom Bulls host the Lions in Pretoria on Saturday. The winner of the derby will advance to the playoffs, while the loser is likely to watch the knockout rounds on TV.
The derby should present the players with a further opportunity to impress national coach Rassie Erasmus. Pollard should deliver a timely reminder of why he is the Springbok flyhalf incumbent. On the other hand, Jantjies should be aiming for an improved performance that ultimately challenges the status quo, or at the very least confirms that South Africa has two outstanding options at No 10.
To be fair, Pollard has outperformed Jantjies over the course of the regular season. When the Bulls and Lions last met, Pollard scored 20 points to help the men in blue claim a rare victory at Ellis Park. Jantjies failed to make an impression on the contest.
The derby at Loftus will feature a clash of styles. While the Bulls have scored some outstanding tries this season, they have embraced a pragmatic game plan that relies on gainline dominance and a drive for territory. The Lions, as we’ve come to expect over the past four or five years, have favoured a high-tempo, ball-in-hand approach.
|POLLARD||170 (1)||2 (104=)||7 (6=)||16 (2=)||16 (11=)||183 (40)||15 (13=)|
|JANTJIES||110 (7)||3 (41=)||6 (8=)||20 (1)||14 (19=)||357 (21)||17 (4=)|
Tournament ranking in brackets
The Bulls rank third in the tournament for kicks from hand and kick metres. Pollard, scrumhalves Embrose Papier and Ivan van Zyl, and to a lesser extent Jesse Kriel and Warrick Gelant have used the boot to gain ground and create scoring chances.
By contrast, the Lions rank 13th for kicks and kick metres. They’re at fifth for run metres and second for linebreaks, and ultimately at third for tries scored.
Can the Lions play a running game on the back foot, though? Can Jantjies bring those dangerous backs into the contest if his forwards are losing the collisions and he is being forced deeper and deeper into the pocket?
The Lions have blown hot and cold in 2019, and their star flyhalf has enjoyed mixed success. No player has created more linebreaks in the tournament than Jantjies, and he’s right up there with the top performers in terms of try assists.
His display on defence and with the boot has been less impressive. Jantjies topped the missed-tackle table in 2018. He told SA Rugby magazine earlier this year that he planned to address these shortcomings and deliver an improved all-round performance, and yet here we are, in the final round of the regular season, and Jantjies tops that list again with 40 misses and a tackle success-rate of 64%.
DEFENCE AND KICKING
|TACKLE %||MISSED TACKLES||K||KM
|POLLARD||75 (396)||20 (32)||94 (8)||3,060 (8)||
|JANTJIES||64 (507)||40 (1=)||90 (9)||2,664 (9)||
Tournament ranking in brackets
In the past, the Lions could rely on Jantjies’ left boot to turn scoring opportunities into points. In 2019, however, his goal-kicking radar has faltered and he’s converted only 75% of his attempts.
The Bulls have been as erratic as the Lions in terms of results. Pollard has also had his off days over the past few months.
That said, the numbers highlight his individual contributions across all departments. While the Bulls haven’t been the most potent attacking side, Pollard is right up there with linebreak assists. While his tackle success-rate (75%) needs to improve, he’s taken his kicking game to the next level.
Pollard heads into the final round of the regular season as the tournament’s leading point-scorer. The Bulls have opted to shoot for goal more often than not, and Pollard – with an 82% success rate – has made those chances count.
Pollard and Jantjies will be under pressure to produce game-shaping performances for their respective teams at Loftus on Saturday. The quality of those displays will determine which side progress to the playoffs, and which team drop out of the race.