Morné Steyn has re-established himself as the clear first-choice flyhalf for the Springboks, but Handré Pollard's emergence is exciting, writes RYAN VREDE.
I wrote a fortnight ago that while I thought Pollard was an extremely gifted player, I would be wary of his premature elevation to the Springboks' fold. I explained my understanding, based on numerous discussions with coach Heyneke Meyer, was that he was well down the pecking order of flyhalves at this stage, but certainly seen as a future Springbok player.
Two weeks later and Pollard, announced recently as the best junior player on the planet thanks in large part to his impressive performances in the Junior World Championship, is on the brink of become a Bok. My view that such a move is premature hasn't changed, but I can appreciate his call up in the context of Steyn's return to France, doubts lingering over Johan Goosen's fitness and no other options that met Meyer's tactical requirements to the degree required.
I don't question Pollard's talent. Indeed he looked a class apart from his contemporaries at the Junior World Championship, which is a quality he shares with all the best young talent in the tournament who've made a successful transition to Test rugby. However, ideally I would have liked to seen him complete a full Super Rugby season. I wanted to examine how he stood up to the pressure associated with leading the Bulls' play-off ambitions.
But circumstances have fast-tracked his career and his aptitude could well be tested against Scotland. On the evidence of what I've seen, he won't be a liability if this happens, and it is likely to signal the start of his ascent higher up the pecking order.
As it stands Steyn is by some distance the Springboks' best option in the position. I was critical of his performances from 2011 through to the end of 2013. He'd become a shadow of the formidable Test player he was in 2009 and was surviving on reputation and the charity of Peter de Villiers and later Meyer. Last season saw him recover his confidence and form, and despite having his involvement with French club Stade Français curtailed through injury and non-selection this past European season, Steyn was a picture of composure and efficiency over the two Tests against Wales, showing himself to be an asset in Saturday's tense victory in Nelspruit despite service of a lesser quality to what he received in Durban a fortnight ago.
Privately Meyer will hope he continues to spend more time on the bench or stands at the Parisian club than he does on the field leading into the Rugby Championship. A fit and firing Steyn is essential to the Springboks' success, especially in light of the inexperience of his deputies, among which Pollard can now count himself among. Meyer still holds Goosen in high regard and hopes his young body will cease betraying him. If Goosen recovers sufficiently (he was in the reckoning to be on the bench in Nelspruit) he'll start against Scotland, with Pollard likely to start on the wood.
Both, however, are still some way behind Steyn in their development. This is not to say either won't surpass him by the time the World Cup kicks off, but for now the old hand has re-asserted himself and is once more a massive asset for the Springboks.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images