Heyneke Meyer has backed Handré Pollard to start against Argentina because of the 20-year-old’s mental steel. JON CARDINELLI in Pretoria, reports.
Meyer has had his eye on Pollard for many years. He marked Pollard as something special when the gifted flyhalf was just 15 and playing for Western Province in the U16 Craven Week. It didn’t surprise Meyer to see Pollard guiding the SA U20s to the Junior World Championship title in 2012, and it didn’t surprise Meyer when Pollard produced an outstanding performance on his Test debut this past June.
Nevertheless, starting Pollard in a Rugby Championship Test is a big call. Meyer was asked on Wednesday at the Bok team announcement why he believes Pollard is ready for such a responsibility.
Meyer’s response confirmed that he has terrific faith in Pollard’s ability, in terms of the player he is at present and the player he may become in future. The Bok coach also said that he had lost none of his faith in Morné Steyn, who may indeed replace Pollard as the starting No 10 in the coming weeks.
‘We’ve had a lot of continuity in the forwards, but there have been disruptions in the backs with the injuries and players heading overseas [to their Japanese clubs]. I feel that we’ve always had a great option in Morné at No 10, but with the 2015 World Cup not far away, we have to start looking at an alternative, ’ said Meyer.
Johan Goosen has left South Africa to play for Racing Metro in France. It’s felt that Goosen, whose short career has been plagued by injuries, needs to play for an extended period before he can be considered for the Bok squad again.
Pat Lambie is another who has fallen down the pecking order. Meyer said that Lambie, who missed four months of Super Rugby due to an arm injury, is short on game time and has sent the flyhalf back to the Sharks to play in the Currie Cup.
However, the way that Meyer spoke about Pollard’s strengths on Wednesday, you could well believe that Steyn and Pollard will share the flyhalf responsibilities for the duration of the Rugby Championship.
‘Handré has impressed me, not just in that game against Scotland, but in the way he had conducted himself in training these past few weeks,’ said Meyer. ‘He ticks a lot of boxes physically, but on top of all that is that thing that I look for, that composure and leadership quality.
‘You need that kind of player [at flyhalf], somebody who the other players can follow. He’s very cool under pressure and has an unbelievable running game. His goal-kicking has been brilliant in the Super Rugby competition, and the only thing that needs to improve is his tactical kicking game.
‘The thing with Handré is that I really believe he can be a great tactical kicker. I believe he will have a good kicking and running game. There aren’t many international flyhalves who tick both those boxes. I feel Handré is going to be a world-class player.’
The Boks will be chasing four tries and five log points this Saturday. While they won't play risky rugby, they will look to up the tempo of their attack. The halfback pairing of Ruan Pienaar and Pollard will be crucial in this regard.
‘It will be good for Handré to have two experienced players on either side of him,' said the Bok coach. 'I feel that No 12 is Jean de Villiers’s best position, as he can carry and distribute. That’s why we have been so successful recently in terms of scoring tries.
‘We have to play at a high tempo if we want to be the best team in the world, and this is where Ruan, like any No 9, will have a big job to do,’ Meyer continued. ‘We worked hard on our breakdown in 2013, and were one of the best teams in the world. That said, we will have to be at our best against Argentina who are very good in that area. We want Ruan to receive quick ball. That’s ideal for a No 10 like Handré who likes to attack the line. We need quick ball if we are going to score a great number of tries.’
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