Not starting Handré Pollard against England represents a missed opportunity in the player’s evolution as a world-class flyhalf, writes MARK KEOHANE in London.
Pollard is the now and he is the future. He is the closest thing the game has seen in a No 10 jersey since a young Dan Carter made his Test debut for the All Blacks more than a decade ago.
Pollard was not the reason the Boks lost to Ireland in Dublin, but he was definitely one of the reasons the Boks looked so good against the All Blacks in Wellington and at Ellis Park.
Pollard needs to be starting every Test in the buildup to the World Cup. His selection, for me, should never have been in doubt.
The demotion of scrumhalf Francois Hougaard is understandable, given his struggles in Dublin, but Jano Vermaak may have suited the Boks’ attack better at Twickenham.
Cobus Reinach has been given a start but I don’t see him being the preferred option in a World Cup play-off game and Vermaak, based at Toulouse, is more familiar with playing conditions up north.
The pack changes were expected. Schalk Burger simply had to be picked as a starting option. His work rate is without comparison among the Boks and he commands an aura that has been earned over the past decade.
Bismarck du Plessis’ international shares have dropped radically in 2014. He is such a fine player and in 2011 he was at the peak of his game. He should have started every World Cup match back then but was deemed secondary to the captaincy component of John Smit.
Now he is again the second-choice hooker. Only this time his form doesn’t make as compelling a case for natural inclusion as a starting option.
The Bismarck hasn’t quite been sunk but there has been a gradual submersion all year. He hasn’t looked a happy camper and he plays with more a frown than a freedom of expression. He is the world’s best but in 2014 he hasn’t been South Africa’s best. Strauss deserves to start.
Pat Lambie is another who deserves a start, but it should have been at No 15, with Willie le Roux asked to do an impact job.
A combination of Pollard at No 10, Lambie at 15 and Le Roux to cut tired defences to shreds in the last 30 minutes would have given me greater confidence ahead of Saturday’s Test.
Lambie’s game at No 15 is low risk and error free and against England at Twickenham it's low risk and error free that will give the South Africans reward.
Le Roux has been off his game, but because of the extravagance the errors seem to be excused. Unfortunately the flamboyance and attacking threat have not matched the error rate. He is another – like Bismarck – whose smile has been replaced with a petulance and irritation, be it directed at himself, his teammates or rugby life in general.
Le Roux, in his first season of international rugby, played with a sense of adventure and a permanent smile. Now the adventure looks more like a chore and the face is often grimaced.
Le Roux’s essence was that he played with freedom and seemingly without fear of failure. But that’s not the case at the moment.
Lambie, picked at No 10, is not a poor selection when viewed in isolation. But when viewed in the context of the Rugby Championship and Pollard’s arrival and emergence, it's a selection that didn’t have to be made.
I also don’t see the value of Cornal Hendricks as a bench player. He is a starter to me or not in the match 23.
The bench is good without being brilliant and the Boks this week have a presence that's more powerful than potent.
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