Pollard’s a special player

Handré Pollard will make his mark for the Springboks in Test rugby, writes MARK KEOHANE.

Pollard will make his Springbok debut on Saturday when he starts at flyhalf against Scotland. Pat Lambie’s future will be as a utility back and Johan Goosen’s international flyhalf claims will depend on him finding consistency in performance and playing a lot more. I, for one, think time in the French Top 14 will improve Goosen’s maturity and also give more balance to a natural playing style that can be hit and miss.

Springbok rugby, in terms of flyhalf options, is strong. Morné Steyn will play out the next two years as Heyneke Meyer’s first choice and Lions flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff is a player more in the Steyn than Goosen mould. Boshoff would not look out of place in a Bok No 10 jersey and he certainly has gained on regional teammate Elton Jantjies, whose own battle to reclaim the Bok jersey will be difficult.

I get a sense Jantjies knows this, which is why he has committed to club rugby in Japan, where club performance is not going to get him back into the Bok fold. If Jantjies had gone to the United Kingdom, Ireland or France to play club rugby, then his performances certainly could have been measured on a like-for-like basis.

Jantjies doesn’t have historical international experience over an extended period of time, as is the case with Fourie du Preez and JP Pietersen, two chosen for the Boks while still playing in Japan (Pietersen has subsequently moved back to South Africa on a permanent basis). Jantjies, though, is still young and don’t think of him in the past tense.

So many naturally gifted young players get their first opportunity in Super Rugby or Tests at a young age and they either succeed immediately or face the prospect of going straight to the back of the queue and spending the next five to 10 years trying to force their way back into the international arena. Some never get back or get given another chance because they are either too scarred or simply weren’t as good as their potential suggested. And some simply never again get viewed with the same promise.

Jantjies is a player who will have to do it the hard way and Goosen, at the start of the international season, was another whose evolution and maturity as a Test flyhalf may only come after a stint in the Top 14.

The southern hemisphere’s rugby youngsters, many of whom are pampered in their early years of professionalism, lose form in year two or three of Super Rugby and they tend to lose heart. South African provincial professional coaches, mainly because there is such natural talent coming through the schools system, don’t always spend time developing those players who did not produce when initially selected.

Pollard has the big advantage of having a national coach who believes in him and makes no secret of just how much he believes in him.

Pollard, Meyer told me, is a special player. This conversation happened five years ago. Pollard was then a 15-year-old Paarl Gymnasium U16 captain who was already playing for the Western Province U16s. Meyer added that Pollard was a flyhalf in the Dan Carter mould. He could do everything. He also stood very tall physically as a flyhalf.

It was then that the Bulls indicated to Pollard they wanted to sign him, but they could only legally do so when he completed his schooling.

Pollard, again because of Meyer’s insistence, became the first schoolboy to be picked for the SA U20 team, which won the Junior World Championship in South Africa in 2012. And in June this year he captained the Junior Boks in New Zealand. He also started for the Bulls in the latter part of Super Rugby.

Pollard’s good fortune is that the coach who rates him so highly is Meyer, and that the rave reviews go back five years to his school days.

If injury doesn’t claim him, he will make his mark in Test rugby. Whereas Goosen is more the maverick, Pollard has the potential to be the master.

Goosen reminds me of Carlos Spencer and Pollard is more Dan Carter, which means one will play unmatched rugby on occasions for South Africa and the other will play with authority and mastery on most occasions.

I’d have them both in my national squad now but I know that after the 2015 World Cup I’d have Pollard as my No 1 flyhalf and Goosen as my No 1 utility back.

– This is an edited version of a column that appears in the July 2014 issue of SA Rugby magazine

Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images