COMMENT: Is Handre Pollard really the answer to the Springboks’ goal-kicking problems?

Jesse Kriel (L) of South Africa with Handre Pollard of South Africa during the Rugby World Cup.

Handre Pollard (R) has missed his fair amount of kicks for the Springboks. Photo: Steve Haag Sports via BackpagePix

Published Sep 29, 2023


The indecent haste with which Rassie Erasmus told the media that a solution was needed for the Springboks’ kicking woes after the loss to Ireland was countered 24 hours later by Jacques Nienaber telling the media not to expect “miracles” from Handre Pollard.

That sums up the quandary the Boks are in as the World Cup nears the business end: Just about everything is working sweetly apart from the goal-kicking, and the pressure that Manie Libbok has been under in this regard now passes to Pollard.

The potential problem is that Nienaber is right.

Pollard may be a better goalkicker than Libbok but he is by no means an ace kicker. He can also miss sitters and if we go back to the 2019 World Cup, Pollard had a chequered tournament, although when it came down to the big games, he stepped up to the plate and delivered.

I would say that it was Pollard’s deadly kicking in the tense semifinal against Wales that prompted his hurried return to France last week after missing initial World Cup selection because of a lingering calf injury. In that match, he kicked four penalties and converted Damian de Allende’s try as the Boks squeaked home 19-16.

A week later, in the final against England, Pollard followed this up with six penalties and two conversions in the 32-16 defeat of England. It is on this basis that he has been recalled for Libbok, who apart from his kicking failures, had been excellent in all other facets of the game.

The irony is that, judging from his kicking performances for the Stormers in the URC, he could be one game away from hitting his kicking groove.

Here is the thing with Pollard. Prior to his heroics against Wales and England in the 2019 tournament, he was kicking at 63%, and even in the final, he missed two penalties. In the pool match against the All Blacks that year, he missed a sitter from in front of the posts.

Therefore, while I understand the need for the Bok bosses to fix the kicking problem, it is important that Bok fans understand that Pollard is not necessarily a saviour and that it might be the wrong decision to not stick with Libbok and trust that the law of percentages will kick in and restore his kicking prowess.

What does Nienaber expect of Pollard?

“A realistic performance. I think that’s where we must all stay in the reality of it.

“He hasn’t played for the Boks in 13 months – he last played in August 2022 for the Springboks.”

The big issue for Nienaber is that if Pollard fails with the boot against Tonga on Sunday, does he give him another shot in the quarter-final or does he recall Libbok after dropping him because his kicking wasn’t up to scratch?

It is one heck of a quandary and let’s hope that Pollard solves it by kicking sweetly from the tee in Marseille.