Pollard selection a shrewd call

Heyneke Meyer’s decision to start Handré Pollard against Argentina will pay off in the short and long term, writes JON CARDINELLI.

On Wednesday, it was confirmed that Pollard will start at No 10 in the first Test of the Rugby Championship. Pollard has been training with the starting side in Pretoria all week, and his selection should not come as a shock.

It's a selection that should allow South Africa to reach their four-try goal at Loftus Versfeld. It's a significant long-term decision in that it will introduce the 20-year-old to the toughest annual rugby competition on the planet.

Pollard guided the Baby Boks to a Junior Rugby Championship title in 2012, and big things were expected of him in his first season for the Bulls in 2014. His goal-kicking was excellent, but what really marked him as the find of the competition was his attacking play. He lent the Bulls some much-needed potency.

The Bok forwards smashed their Scottish counterparts in Port Elizabeth, and playing behind such a dominant pack, Pollard’s strengths were maximised. He not only played a lot flatter than a traditional South African flyhalf, but made some excellent decisions that led to several scoring opportunities out wide.

But let’s pump the brakes for a second. Pollard is 20. He is not perfect, nor does he deserve to be described as South Africa’s answer to Dan Carter. At least not yet.

Pollard needs to play. We’ve had nothing but glimpses of his true potential in Super Rugby and in a one-sided fixture against Scotland. We need to see how he performs in the Rugby Championship.

He will make mistakes this weekend, but that is the point. Pollard needs to be exposed to this level of competition, which is a big step up from that of the June Tests. He will benefit from the experience of playing against Argentina.

It’s hardly a gamble to start Pollard this weekend. He has not only shown that he has the physical ability, but the mental steel to be a success. In training this week, he has looked every bit the general, marshalling the backline on defence and attack.

This Saturday, he will have the benefit of playing alongside two veterans. Ruan Pienaar (76 caps) and Jean de Villiers (96) are two of the best in the business, and will make Pollard’s transition to the big time that much smoother.

While these are exciting times as one young flyhalf gets an opportunity, Pollard’s selection does not herald the demise of Morné Steyn. The two flyhalves possess different strengths, and are at opposite ends of the experience scale.

Pollard will have an important role to play on attack this Saturday, and his selection is very necessary considering he is likely to be in the 31-man World Cup squad in 2015. Steyn will come back into the picture when the Boks tackle the All Blacks and Wallabies next month.

It's in those pressure Tests where the Boks will need their most experienced and accomplished flyhalf. While Steyn hasn’t played much this season, people tend to forget that he has been one of the best kickers in Test rugby, from hand and from the tee, over the past five years.

Expect Pollard to make his chance count this Saturday. The Bok forwards will provide the platform, and from there, Pollard should bring those dangerous backs into play.

Meyer has made another significant selection at No 13. Damian de Allende will partner De Villiers, his Stormers teammate, in midfield.

De Allende is another youngster who has performed consistently for his Super Rugby franchise. He is not only big and powerful, but is highly rated by the Bok coaches for his decision-making. De Allende could make a strong statement on debut this Saturday.

Lood de Jager took his chance in the recent series against Wales and Scotland, and will have an important job to do at No 5 in the absence of Victor Matfield. Fortunately, like Pollard, De Jager will have the benefit of playing alongside a decorated veteran in Bakkies Botha.

It’s a well-balanced side, and one suited to the task. The Boks need five log points from this fixture. Anything less will be viewed as a missed opportunity.

Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images

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Jon Cardinelli