Handré Pollard is quickly developing into a flyhalf of the highest order, writes RYAN VREDE.
This was always going to be an important season for Pollard's development. Where 2014 was his breakthrough year, one in which he benefited from a degree of mystery, 2015 was always going to be a more difficult proposition. However, on the evidence of his contributions to date, Pollard is negotiating that challenge expertly.
This is not to say he has evolved into the best version of himself. Far from it. Pollard has and will continue to take poor options and execute those actions poorly in the coming months and years. He is in a process of refinement in which errors of that kind will be commonplace. Indeed they are crucial to his improvement. His education is some way from completion, but he is showing himself to be an excellent student.
He tops the point-scorer's table, the majority of his haul coming from the kicking tee, but his value extends far beyond that. Pollard's game management has advanced notably and he has exhibited week-on-week improvement in his option-taking. His running game has always caught the eye, but the improvement now is in the intelligence with which he attacks the defensive line and the spaces therein.
By way of an example from Saturday's match in Auckland, the split-second decision he made to run the ball instead of passing it, then committing two defenders before offloading to set up Jan Serfontein's first try spoke volumes about his progression. There are a catalog of similar examples from this season one could cite.
Deeply entrenched provincialism means that Pollard's development hasn't been as widely lauded as it should be. Yet he is by some way the standout South African flyhalf and arguably among the top three in the tournament.
I was critical of Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer's decision to play him ahead of Morné Steyn for the bulk of the 2014 season. My view was that Pollard's elevation was premature, that Steyn still had something to offer the team in the context of their game plan. In hindsight, Pollard, through performance, has embarrassed that opinion. The fruits of his Test experience and a regular Vodacom Super Rugby starting berth are clear to see.
Pollard's rise is encouraging in a World Cup year. Barring serious injury or significant loss of form, Pollard is likely to be Meyer's premier pivot at the tournament in England. Starting consistently on the 2014 end-of-year tour would have offered him some insight into the tactical demands on a Test flyhalf in those conditions and against opposition accustomed to them. This amplifies his value.
Pollard's temperament was never in question. He has always given one the sense that he won't easily fold under pressure and reinforced that sense through performance under pressure. The pertinent questions around him focus more on game management and option-taking. These last few months of Super Rugby have been telling in this regard. He looks to be on course to realise his immense potential.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images