• Pollard keeps Kiwis guessing

    All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster says the Springboks are a more complete side when Handré Pollard starts at flyhalf, reports JON CARDINELLI in Johannesburg.

    There’s been a lot of talk in both camps this week about the coming occasion at Ellis Park. Both sets of coaches and players have spoken about a mutual respect, and everybody is anticipating an epic contest that will showcase the best skills in rugby union.

    On Tuesday, Foster said the All Blacks not only respect the character of the Springbok players, but the spirit in which they play the game. He also made special mention of one of the Bok squad’s youngest players, a man who has made a marked difference to the South African attack.

    Heyneke Meyer made a bold call to start Handré Pollard in the two Tests against Argentina, and an even bolder call to back the 20-year-old to start against the All Blacks in Wellington. The decision was vindicated, as Pollard caused the All Blacks defence problems and manufactured the linebreak that led to Cornal Hendricks’ try.

    ‘There’s been a significant change since Handré Pollard has been playing at 10,’ said Foster. ‘We [the All Blacks coaching staff] thought he had a strong game in Wellington. He looks a player for the future and for right now.’

    The Boks have certainly lifted their attacking game since Meyer took charge. The 2013 season witnessed a shift in mindset, as Meyer showed his willingness to back attack-minded players like Willie le Roux.

    Meyer has continued to back special players in 2014. Le Roux has made mistakes this season but when he has fired, the opposition defence has often had no response.

    The same is true of Pollard, who has produced some magical touches. The improvement of the Boks has not only caught the eye of the All Blacks coaches, but some of the New Zealand players.

    ‘We’ve taken note of what happened last week in Cape Town,’ said fullback Israel Dagg. ‘They scored three tries in the last 10 minutes. They have some gifted players on the outside with quick feet. It’s going to be one hell of a battle at Ellis Park.’

    All Blacks No 8 Kieran Read said that the visitors need to be at their best this weekend. Anything less and the much-improved Boks will punish them.

    ‘They’ve taken a step forward this year,’ Read said. ‘They still have their attritional strengths, but they’ve added some creativity on attack. There should be some good footie on view this Saturday.’

    It’s unlikely that the Boks will take on the All Blacks via a high-tempo, all-out-attacking approach. Tactical kicking will be important too, and as Bok assistant coach Ricardo Loubscher stated on Monday, the Boks need to strike the right balance between running and kicking.

    In Pollard, the Boks have a complete flyhalf who can offer running and kicking options.

    Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

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    Jon Cardinelli