• Hougaard, Pollard must deliver

    Heyneke Meyer admits that the northern hemisphere conditions will demand a sharper tactical display from South Africa’s attack-minded halfbacks, reports JON CARDINELLI in Dublin.

    Ruan Pienaar will play no part on the Springboks’ four-Test tour to Europe. The news was confirmed on Tuesday afternoon from the team’s base in Dublin.

    While this won’t impact on the Boks’ preparation ahead of the Test against Ireland, it will heap the pressure on replacement Francois Hougaard. The third-choice scrumhalf at the start of the 2014 season, Hougaard is now the man tasked with making important tactical decisions that, all told, will determine the Boks' success on this journey to the north.

    Hougaard was outstanding in the matches against Australia and New Zealand in South Africa, as was his halfback partner, Handré Pollard. And yet, a more rounded approach will be required if they’re to beat Ireland this Saturday and extend that winning streak to three.

    ‘Hougaard is playing some of his best rugby, but he hasn’t started [more than once] in these conditions before. So this is certainly a new challenge,’ said Meyer on Wednesday.

    ‘I’m sure the Ireland defence will look to put him and Handré under a lot of pressure. We want to play a more ball-in-hand game, but these players must be able to adjust and play for territory if the situation demands it.

    ‘We said from the start that this tour will serve as preparation for the 2015 World Cup,’ the Bok coach continued. ‘I would like for the weather to be clear on Saturday, but maybe it would do us some good to experience the rain at some point of this tour. It will force these players to adapt.’

    Meyer tempered this statement by expressing his faith in the two players. After all, it was Meyer who recruited both Hougaard and Pollard at a young age, luring them to the Bulls from Western Province. He has often spoken glowingly about their attacking attributes.

    Indeed, these players have received many plaudits following their sublime attacking display for the Boks against the All Blacks on 4 October. Since arriving in Dublin, they’ve been the talk of the town, with local scribes and even the Ireland coaching staff marvelling at their attacking strengths.

    Meyer, though, is clearly not taking the compliments to heart. The Bok coach knows that more than attacking brilliance will be required at the Aviva Stadium this Saturday.

    ‘In a sense, I don’t want to put too much pressure on Handré. He is a special player but he is only 20. He will make mistakes and that’s what this tour is all about.

    ‘However, I do want to see more from him in terms of his tactical kicking. Pat Lambie will get game time on this tour, and was close to being selected for this game against Ireland. But I need to see what Handré can do. There are only eight Tests until the 2015 World Cup, and so I need to see how Handré goes under this sort of pressure and in these conditions.’

    Ireland are set to name Jonny Sexton at No 10. Sexton was a Test rookie when he kicked Ireland to a 15-10 victory against the Boks in 2009, but has since developed into one of the finest players on the planet. The pivot was at the heart of Ireland’s Six Nations triumph in March.

    Meyer feels that one of Sexton’s strongest attributes is his tactical kicking, and that the Boks will need to match Ireland in that department if they are to prevail this Saturday.

    ‘Ireland are very good in that department, particularly with their contestable kicking,’ said Meyer. ‘We need to respond to that challenge. Sexton is a quality player and very good tactically, and if he succeeds in kicking to the corners, it could be a long day for us.’

    Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

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    Jon Cardinelli