Handre Pollard personally feels the Boks’ style of play when sticking to their traditional strengths is the “most beautiful thing in the world”, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
After an extensive buildup, and several considerable disruptions, the Boks have finally reached the final week of preparation before heading into battle against the British & Irish Lions this Saturday.
As the first Test has approached, so the intensity has begun to increase on and off the field, with SA director of rugby Rassie Erasmus and Warren Gatland particularly sharing some differing views on more than one subject.
Gatland has suggested it’s all been a “bit of fun, a game within a game”, but there is no doubt that some of the comments coming out of the Lions camp would not have escaped the attention of the Boks.
This past weekend, headlines also popped up from a UK publication, which featured some rather inflammatory opinions from former Bok coach Peter de Villiers, who suggested no one would be looking to copy the Boks’ style of play.
“Firstly, it’s very boring. Does it give you results? Definitely, but it’s very, very boring,” De Villiers was quoted as saying. “We suffocate people with our bulk and then we base our whole gameplan around defending, defending, defending. Instead of creating, creating, creating.”
On Monday, the Boks held their first virtual media briefing of the week, and Pollard was asked about some of the comments going around about the team’s play.
With a wry smile, Pollard provided an emphatic response: “For me, it’s the most beautiful thing in the world … apart from my wife,” he added tactfully.
Another question followed: “Why?”
“It’s the way we’ve been brought up, it’s the way we play. For me, personally it’s a thing of beauty,” Pollard continued. “Throwing the ball around may be nice for the people watching on TV, but for me that [the Bok way of playing] is beautiful.”
There have also been persistent questions around the Boks’ readiness to face the Lions after such limited game time, and particularly in light of several players testing positive for Covid-19 recently, with some still completing their return-to-play protocols.
However, Pollard – who only recently returned to training after his own period of isolation – said there should be no doubts about the Boks’ preparedness.
“For these three weeks we’re going to be locked in mentally, just focusing on the task at hand. You don’t have to stay sane, you have to stay focused on what we want to achieve as a squad, and we’re going to put all our energy into that.
“These are exciting times, playing for your country, there is no way we’re not going to be ready. Emotionally and physically we are all fine, we’ve had a hard week of training, and been preparing harder than at Test match level. So, we’ll be ready for whatever comes our way.
“We’ve done a lot of mental preparation, analysis. Thankfully, I didn’t have any symptoms, so I’ve been able to back to physical training quite quickly, so for me personally I am 100% physically.”
Touching on what the Boks were expecting from the Lions, Pollard simply said it was “going to be interesting”.
“The Lions perhaps weren’t challenged as much as they would have liked in the first few warm-up games, and you end up playing a certain way when there is so much time and space on the ball.
“We saw glimpses here and there of what they do when they were placed under pressure, and we’re probably expecting more of that. I don’t think there will be any big secret of what is coming, these are two sides that are going to play pretty similar games. It will come down to physicality, set pieces and all the basics, as is always the case with big Test-match rugby.”