Pollard, Boks coming up trumps

Handré Pollard is the Springboks' best No 10 option at the World Cup and potentially could become the best in the game over the next few years, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.

Pollard, at 21 years old, does things other international flyhalves don’t get right in a career. The youngster was outstanding against Scotland as the Springboks marched emphatically to a World Cup quarter-final. He made the odd mistake and a schoolboy howler, which led to an intercept try for Scotland and a 14-point turnaround.

The Boks, in control and on attack, were a walk-in to score had Pollard relied on the simple in his distribution to his outside backs. Instead he went for a flat long pass and Scotland enjoyed their best 60 seconds of the contest at controlling the tempo of the game. They were good in the lineout, convincing in the scrum and again dominant and in command in the collisions. It was the Springboks as they should be — too strong for opposition ranked outside the top six.

There were a few nervous moments in the second half after the Scotland intercept, but Pollard almost immediately restored the two-score buffer with a polished drop goal on an afternoon in which his only goal-kicking miss was a touchline conversion.

He plays aggressively on attack and in defence. He put in some monster tackles against Scotland and troubled the defence because of his physicality and natural feel for playing close to the gainline.

His tactical kicking was okay without being imposing, but more responsibility must go to the incomparable Fourie du Preez at scrumhalf. Du Preez needs to do more of the line kicking; and more of the attack play must be off Pollard than Du Preez.

The Boks, against Samoa and Scotland, ran the core of their attacking plays off the veteran No 9, but the attack could be more effective if Duane Vermuelen, Schalk Burger, Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth were running off Pollard’s inside shoulder. De Jager’s was the best of some very good individual Bok displays. Etzebeth was very good, Burger was industrious and a menace, and Vermeulen again got better the longer he played. Du Preez was all class at halfback and Pollard was a playmaker in every sense.

It’s difficult to assess just how good the Boks were because it’s debatable as to how good a side Scotland fielded.

Samoa, so easily dispatched by the Boks, were as comfortably beaten by Japan, so there has to be context to the Boks’ last two victories. They were convincing, but talk of winning the World Cup will have to wait until the Boks advance past the quarter-finals.

On the evidence of the weekend, they will probably play Wales — and from what I’ve seen at the tournament so far I’d back the Boks to have too much physicality for the brave but battered Welsh, who play Australia in their final pool outing.

The Wallabies were excellent in demolishing England and ending the hosts’ World Cup prospects before the pool stages. It was the performance of the World Cup, but again there is caution when assessed against just how good England really were.

The Wallabies, in Sydney against the All Blacks and in Brisbane against the Boks, showed their potential en route to winning the Rugby Championship. And at Twickenham against England they played with authority, power and pace.

The Wallabies, and not the world champion All Blacks, are the holders of the Rugby Championship — and in the first month of the tournament it is the Wallabies that have played with greater cohesion and earned better reviews.

It is always difficult to make assessments in the pool stages, which are for qualification purposes; the play-offs are for producing one’s best rugby. We are only starting to see the best of the Boks and we don’t know what the best is of France. Australia have announced their World Cup intention and Ireland have been the most consistent of the top five teams in playing the qualifications with more panache than irritation.

The All Blacks have been an enigma. They eased their way to the play-offs but not once delivered a vintage display. Still, they remain the team to beat — and the Boks are starting to shape as challengers worthy of a World Cup play-off, be it a quarter-final or final. That’s not something that could have been said with any conviction a month ago.

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