PRETORIA – Blue Bulls coach John Mitchell has opted not to utilise the services of returning Springboks Handré Pollard and Rudy Paige ahead of their Currie Cup clash against the Sharks in Durban.
The Bok duo were released from the national team upon their return from New Zealand where they copped a record 57-0 defeat at the hands of the All Blacks.
Springbok coach Allister Coetzee was hoping that they will get some much-needed game time prior to meeting up again for the home leg of the Rugby Championship.
However, Mitchell feels that bringing in Pollard and Paige could be detrimental to his team’s cohesion and growth since taking over the reins from Nollis Marais over a month ago.
Mitchell doesn’t see the value of changing his team for one game to accommodate two players who are likely to return to the national team when they assemble in Bloemfontein next week, and will in all probability not be available to play for the remainder of the Currie Cup season.
“It’s always good to have the Springboks return, it is also nice for them because they have returned on their own accord as well. Clearly they enjoy the way that we prepare, so it helps them heading towards their next camp,” said Mitchell after training at Loftus Versfeld on Tuesday.
“They won’t be selected this week for us, and we have been very clear about that and they understand that. This is done for our team cohesion, and the growth of ourselves is more important at this minute, and they understand that. But they can also still prepare very well for Test week by training with us in the training week.”
Mitchell says it was an easy decision to make to leave out Pollard and Paige in favour of in-form flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff and scrumhalves André Warner and Ivan van Zyl.
A man never too far from controversy, Mitchell was quick to remind any of his critics that he had done the same thing in 2011, leaving out Springboks Butch James and CJ van der Linde while coaching the Lions to their Currie Cup triumph.
According to Mitchell, both Pollard and Paige understand why they won’t be playing Currie Cup rugby on the weekend, even though they will continue to train with the team for the remainder of the week.
Pollard last played for the Bulls in Super Rugby before sustaining an ankle injury halfway through the competition, while Paige has rarely played any rugby since the conclusion of Super Rugby and only making two cameo appearances for the Springboks.
“It’s pretty easy and I’ve had it before in the Currie Cup. Going into the final in 2011, I had to leave out Butch James, and CJ van der Linde was also going to be left out, but there was an injury to JC Janse van Rensburg,” Mitchell said.
“They were both of the understanding that the team had moved forward hugely in terms of cohesion, and they understood they could contribute more coming through the bench.
“It is not too dissimilar to where we are through change (at the Bulls now). We are just starting to grow as a team and are mindful of making sure that we get continuity and cohesion.
“They’ve been very understanding, and it is actually not been difficult for Test players to just immerse themselves back in and expect to play well. Their intent is great, but their rhythm, timing and everything is a new person.
“We’ve already had too much change as a result of factors that are beyond our control. We are at a stage now where we are getting closer to achieving continuity in the same group.”
Even without some of their best and international personnel in the team, Mitchell is confident that they can break the Sharks’ eight-match winning run in the domestic game and revive their hopes of being relevant in the business end of the Currie Cup.
“They are the best team in the competition. I thought that way back, and they probably have the most experienced team, a strong forward pack and they deserve to be where they are.
“I really believe we can beat anyone, and it is a matter of making sure that we earn it through the 80 minutes and make sure we continue in getting better in all our processes.”