The Vodacom Bulls will be less predictable and much more dangerous if they back Handré Pollard at No 10 at Kings Park this Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
At the conclusion of last year's Rugby Championship, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen paid his Springbok counterparts the ultimate compliment. Hansen praised a much-improved Bok attack, as well as Heyneke Meyer's decision to back a 20-year-old talent at flyhalf. Hansen revealed that the selection of Pollard was forcing the All Blacks to rethink their defensive tactics.
Meyer then started Pollard in just one of the four Tests when the Boks toured Europe in November. The Bok coach said he still believed in a player 'who could become one of the great Test flyhalves'. Meyer identified the 2015 Vodacom Super Rugby tournament as an opportunity for South Africa's great prodigy to have an extended run at No 10.
Pollard has certainly made that chance count. When he has been available for selection, he has been backed to start. Despite playing in six of the Bulls' eight matches, he currently tops the Super Rugby scoring charts with 108 points.
The Pollard-less Bulls recently racked up six tries in their 43-22 demolition of the struggling Reds. And yet, they will know that a sterner examination of their skills awaits in Durban this Saturday. They will need their chief tactician and goal-kicker pulling the strings from the No 10 position.
Can the Sharks halt a Pollard-led Bulls charge? Their defence stats don't make for encouraging reading. They've missed the most tackles (195) and conceded as many as 23 tries in nine games. They will be desperate for any kind of win this Saturday, but may struggle to keep the Bulls in check if Pollard plays to potential.
Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold told SARugbymag.co.za he expects the Bulls to revert to a more traditional approach. The Bulls played expansively against the Reds last week, but Gold feels the journey to Kings Park as well as the importance of the derby will see the Bulls' adjusting their tactics.
That said, the Sharks' defenders will still have their hands full. The inclusion of Pollard will keep the first line of defence guessing.
'Handré is a world-class flyhalf,' Gold said. 'He ran the show superbly last year. His game management and decision-making is something else, and then he has that master boot. With all due respect to somebody like Morné Steyn, Handré has brought something very different to the Bulls [in the last two seasons].'
The Sharks pack will be boosted by the return of several Bok forwards this Saturday, and this should aid them in their quest to dominate the Bulls at the set pieces. They will be less equipped to deal with the likes of Pollard in the backs, as an experienced Bok in Pat Lambie is out injured while the hard-hitting Frans Steyn is still serving a sentence for suspension.
However, Gold believes the Sharks defence showed some mettle in the recent battle against the Lions, and that this bodes well for a crucial game against the Bulls.
'I was encouraged by how we defended in the second half, and especially by the way we handled [Lions flyhalf] Elton Jantjies,' said Gold. 'He has added something to his game since playing in Japan, and had a great game against us last week. It was important that we limited his space in that second half.
'Defence will be key, but so too will the kicking game. The Bulls will play a power game with their forwards and drive for territory. That latter battle will be important, and we need to ensure we kick accurately and intelligently.'
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