Pollard passes ultimate test

Handré Pollard made a statement against the best defensive side in the world in Wellington on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.

In the buildup to the clash at the Cake Tin, I questioned Heyneke Meyer's decision to select a 20 year old at flyhalf. I said that Morné Steyn, a more experienced game-manager as well as an infinitely more accomplished goal-kicker, was better suited to the task of beating the All Blacks in New Zealand.

When Meyer announced his side to play the All Blacks this past Wednesday, he explained that Pollard had been picked for his attacking ability. The Bok coach has long been searching for a No 10 who can bring some balance to the team's approach.

Steyn’s kicking strengths are suited to a more tactical game plan, while Pat Lambie is the exact opposite in that his kicking game is not up to international standard. Johan Goosen was once considered the answer at No 10, but has been hampered by a series of injuries over the past two seasons. Like Pollard, Goosen has that attacking X-factor as well as a cannon of a boot.

While the development of Pollard is ongoing, he's shown that he has what it takes. Indeed, while Meyer will be disappointed with the most recent result in Wellington, he should be pleased with the progress in certain areas. He should also feel vindicated about his selection at No 10. Pollard made an attacking statement against the All Blacks, the finest defensive unit in world rugby.

A dominant showing by the forwards at the set pieces and breakdowns provided the halfbacks with a platform to attack. And yet, credit must go to Pollard for taking the right decisions with ball in hand and making the play that wrong-footed the defence.

The buildup to Cornal Hendricks' try was a brilliant example. The Bok forwards won the lineout deep in All Blacks territory, and set the platform. Pollard was involved twice in the subsequent movement. His first pass to Duane Vermeulen allowed the Boks to breach the gainline. His second – a well-timed inside pop pass to Hendricks – created the opportunity to score.

Unfortunately, this was a rare example of Pollard attacking in All Blacks territory. For all the forwards' dominance, the Boks lost the territorial battle. The backs enjoyed few opportunities to attack in New Zealand's half of the pitch.

When they did receive these chances, Pollard caused the All Blacks' defence problems. Towards the end of the game, Pollard showed his intent by taking the ball to the line, and then finding Jan Serfontein with a short pass. Only a desperate tackle by an All Blacks defender would bring Serfontein down.

It's an attacking performance that will have encouraged Meyer. The Bok coach will also be pleased with Pollard's kicking from hand, and for goal.

Some will no doubt focus on the missed penalty attempt in the 64th minute. Had Pollard sunk that three-pointer, the Boks would have moved back into the lead.

But to say that this missed goal attempt cost the Boks the game would be grossly inaccurate. Indeed, Pollard played no small part in getting the team into a position to win this contest.

He had a hand in the Boks' try, and was successful with the conversion attempt. In the 56th minute, he slotted a drop goal to bring the Boks back to within a point of the All Blacks.

Pollard has been praised for his attacking prowess, but he is no one-trick pony. He kicked the Boks into some brilliant positions this past Saturday, and that drop goal was a statement in itself.

The Boks lost the tactical-kicking battle in Wellington, but this was not, as I feared may be the case in my preview, down to any failure by Pollard.

Ruan Pienaar blew hot and cold before succumbing to injury early in the second half. Willie le Roux was equally erratic with the boot. As a unit, the Boks didn't kick well.

I still maintain there is space for Steyn in the Bok squad and indeed in the match 23. The Boks can't afford to go into next year's World Cup with just one flyhalf option.

The Boks lost the game in Wellington, but Meyer gained something by starting Pollard at No 10. The youngster made a statement against the best team in the world, and now the next challenge for Pollard is one of consistency.

Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix

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Jon Cardinelli