Both Handré Pollard and Elton Jantjies should be backed rather than belittled each time they endure an off day in Springbok colours, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
In the Boks’ third and final Test against England back in June, Jantjies produced a torrid performance after starting at flyhalf. More predictable than anything else was the torrent of vitriolic criticism that was thrown his way on social media, and reflected through the boos that rang out at Newlands when he was replaced.
This past Saturday, it was Pollard’s turn to experience a bad day at the office as he missed five kicks from seven attempts at goal. Predictably, the opposing factions of supporters came out to slam the young flyhalf, and question how Jantjies would be treated if he produced the same sort of performance.
The one constant through it all was the reaction of Bok coach Rassie Erasmus after each Test.
On both occasions, Erasmus honestly acknowledged that the two players had not performed up to standard, but reiterated that they would simply go back to work to iron out any issues.
Erasmus is all too aware that the Boks cannot go to the 2019 World Cup without a seasoned general at flyhalf. There is no time to experiment, to doubt these players or to overreact.
Although just 24 years old, Pollard already has 30 Test caps to his name, while he has the experience of starting throughout the last World Cup.
Jantjies has made 26 appearances for the Boks, and there are very few other flyhalves who are as well versed in the school of hard knocks.
These are the two players who the Springboks need to keep backing just over a year away from the next World Cup. The competition between them should be seen as healthy.
Unfortunately, from a South African supporter’s perspective, it often seems that the judgement of these players is divided along the lines of ‘I am a fan of Pollard’ or ‘I am a fan of Jantjies’. The sad reality is that such judgement often degenerates into a battle along racial lines.
It’s high time that a number of so-called Springbok fans demonstrate a greater degree of maturity when it comes to ‘supporting’ these players. Don’t forget, for one, that both flyhalves had the option of permanently packing their bags for overseas clubs, but have rather opted to remain committed to plying their trade in South Africa.
Under Erasmus, the Boks are increasingly looking to play a higher tempo game that’s well suited to their strengths up front and the quick service of Faf de Klerk.
In this regard, it’s beneficial to have a physical flyhalf, who can take the ball flat and test opposition defences by taking the ball to the line or through quick decision-making and distribution.
This is the sort of game that suits Pollard, and why he must remain the Boks’ first-choice flyhalf in the future, and most certainly in Saturday’s rematch against Argentina in Mendoza.
The fact remains that there will be another opportunity for Jantjies down the line this season, and the onus will then fall on his shoulders to make the most of it.
For now, these are the two best options available to the Boks at flyhalf. Damian Willemse is immensely talented, but his transition to Test rugby must be managed carefully, while he is also set to spend a fair bit of time at fullback.
An injury here or there could also quite possibly see oft-forgotten Pat Lambie return to the mix once he is fit again. His 56 Test caps cannot just be discarded and he is known to be held in high regard by Erasmus. The same could be said for another 56-Test Springbok in Frans Steyn.
As Erasmus recently pointed out, no World Cup has been won with a flyhalf who is younger than 24 years old.
With this in mind, it’s high time that the South African public stop pitting Pollard and Jantjies against each other, but rather equally began to back these talented players to come good in the Springboks’ time of need.
POLL: Should Handré Pollard start at flyhalf for the @Springboks in Mendoza?
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) August 20, 2018
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images