Port Elizabeth: It is a “big, big ask” for Handré Pollard to make his Test debut less than a week after arriving back from New Zealand, but coach Heyneke Meyer feels that the 20-year-old can be the general for the Springboks in Saturday’s Test against Scotland.
Pollard was named at No 10 on Wednesday following the withdrawal of Johan Goosen, who has not recovered fully from his knee injury sustained in the first Wales Test, while Morné Steyn is unavailable due to French club commitments.
And while the Junior Bok captain led his team in the Under-20 World Cup final just last Friday in Auckland, Meyer says that the Scotland Test is the right time to blood the Bulls star.
“Handré is a world-class player. He would’ve been with the squad if it wasn’t for his commitments with the SA Under-20 side, and we just felt that it would be a great opportunity for him to lead his country as an Under-20 player,” Meyer said yesterday.
“It is a big, big ask of him. We did sit down and discuss it with him, and I thought long about this. He’s played a lot of rugby lately, and he’s flown into the country. But I always believe that my 10 must show a lot of character as he’s the guy who is the general and must control play.
“And I don’t think that there is a better Test match than this to put him into the deep end. You want to start with a player like that and see what he can bring to the table. I’ve got a lot of confidence in Handré. I think he is a special player, he’s got brilliant, brilliant touches on the ball. He is big and strong and a great kicker of the ball.”
Meyer added that Goosen would’ve started if he was fit, but that the knee problem was still bothering him. “Johan got injured two weeks ago and he’s really recovered well. But there is a question mark over whether he can go for the 80 minutes, and we are expecting a very tough Test match. He would’ve been the obvious choice, but you don’t want to take chances with a guy that’s not 100 percent fit,” the coach said.
“It’s a pity because this tournament (June matches) is the right type to get Johan Goosen going because I have a high regard for him. But the medical team couldn’t tell me if he’s 100 percent fit and that he could last for 80 minutes. So it opens the door for Handré, but like I said, it was just a question of time.
“I always knew that Handré would play for the Boks – since I saw him play for the first time. And I think he’ll bring some different dynamics to the team. He is a great defender, he’s a great attacking 10 as well, and he can kick. And he’s big and strong, so this is a great opportunity to show that he’s good enough to go to the World Cup and just stay in the team.”
The rest of the changes were as expected, with Lwazi Mvovo coming in for Bryan Habana at left wing, Schalk Burger and Marcell Coetzee replacing Willem Alberts and Francois Louw respectively in the loose trio, while Lood de Jager gets his first start at lock in place of Flip van der Merwe and Coenie Oosthuizen will wear the No 1 jersey as Tendai Mtawarira has a neck injury.
De Jager’s progress on Saturday will be gauged even more closely than before after Saru announced yesterday that Van der Merwe is out for six months with knee ligament damage. Eben Etzebeth is expected to play again in the coming weeks, while Bakkies Botha showed against the World XV and Wales that he can still last the pace in Test rugby.
But Meyer said that De Jager will try to play open a spot for himself in the Rugby Championship squad at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday (5pm kickoff).
“Lood is a fairytale for me. I will be honest and say that I had my doubts at the start, but he impressed me from day one – not only through his play, but his fighting spirit, his mindset and his self-confidence. He showed me that he believes in himself, so that makes it easier for me to believe in him,” the coach said.
“He was phenomenal in those 40 minutes in that first Test, and made the most tackles in the whole team with 15. He made me think of Eben in his first Test, and he would want to push for a spot in the Rugby Championship squad.”
Four uncapped players – Bulls tighthead prop Marcel van der Merwe, Sharks lock Stephan Lewies, Cheetahs flank Oupa Mohoje and Lions flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff – could make their Test debuts off the bench, while there were recalls for Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane, Francois Hougaard and Zane Kirchner.
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Bench: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Oupa Mohoje, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Zane Kirchner. - Cape Times