JOHANNESBURG - It’s been a year and seven months since Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard last played international rugby and Friday night’s game against the French Barbarians at Orlando Stadium will mark his return to reclaiming his place in the Springbok team.
The 23-year-old Pollard will be afforded a cameo appearance for the SA ‘A’ side off the bench after having last played for the Springboks at the 2015 Rugby World Cup but Pollard will have to play himself back into the reckoning after Springbok incumbent Elton Jantjies’ stellar performances against France in the last two Tests.
While Springbok coach Allister Coetzee is eager to build up his flyhalf reserves ahead of the Rugby Championship, SA ‘A’ coach Johan Ackermann said the most important aspect of Pollard’s return from injury will be to measure his sharpness against international opposition.
Pollard’s absence last year and for some parts of this year’s Super Rugby campaign for the Bulls due to injuries has left the Springboks thin at pivot with Patrick Lambie also suffering long term injuries but Ackermann is of the opinion that Cheetahs flyhalf Fred Zeilinga also needs to get a fair chance after starting off the bench in last week’s game at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
“I’ve got that freedom to decide how long we need him to play. We’ll obviously give Fred a fair opportunity, he was patient last week to sit on the bench and only get 20 minutes. The whole idea from Allister and Saru’s side is to see where Handre is and how sharp he is since he has been injured. I don’t think it is about the amount of time but rather about getting him back onto the field and testing him against international opposition. I also want to be fair to him and I can’t see him get less than 20 minutes,” said Ackermann.
Along with the change at flyhalf where Southern Kings flyhalf Lionel Cronje finds himself out of the match day 23 after starting last week, Ackermann has made wholesale changes to his team in order to give all his squad members a fair run in the two match series against the Barbarians.
Francois Venter will lead the team and will form a new midfield pairing with Springbok centre Lionel Mapoe while Ackermann has picked an exciting back three with Warrick Gelant starting at fullback and speedsters Lwazi Mvovo and Seabelo Senatla on the wings.
Zeilinga will be in good company in the halfback combination with scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage who takes over from Jano Vermaak who has dropped to the bench.
Ackermann has also had to play musical chairs with his pack of forwards and has gone for an exciting loose trio combination with Southern Kings Andisa Ntsila starting at number eight while his franchise teammate Chris Cloete will be unleashed at openside flank with Sikhumbuzo Notshe being the sole survivor from last week’s game.
Ruan Botha will form a formidable second row partnership with Bulls lock Jason Jenkins while Ackermann has chosen a powerful frontrow that includes Test capped Trevor Nyakane at tighthead, hooker Ramone Samuels and the exciting Ox Nche at loosehead prop.
As disruptive as the changes would have been for Ackermann in building on last week’s win, the Lions coach still believes that he has selected a quality side that can produce another stellar performance.
“I do believe that every player in the squad goes through a sacrifice and it is only fair that every guy gets an opportunity to play. My commitment to the players was that everyone will play and every guy will rotate that is why the whole bench from last week is starting and I had to make changes with the other guys who didn’t play. It is still a quality team and hopefully with changes it brings excitement because there are players looking forward to running out in the starting 15,” Ackermann said.
South Africa 'A': Warrick Gelant, Lwazi Mvovo, Lionel Mapoe, Francois Venter (captain), Seabelo Senatla, Fred Zeilinga, Dewaldt Duvenage, Andisa Ntsila, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Chris Cloete, Ruan Botha, Jason Jenkins, Trevor Nyakane, Ramone Samuels, Ox Nche. Replacements: Franco Marais, Thomas du Toit, Wilco Louw, Uzair Cassiem, Ruan Ackermann, Jano Vermaak, Handre Pollard, Juan de Jongh.
French Barbarians: Julien Dumora, Louis Dupichot, Lucas Dupont, Arnaud Mignardi, Fabrice Estebanez, Frédéric Michalak, Yann Lesgourgues, Marco Tauleigne, Antoine Erbani, Romain Sazy, Alexandre Flanquart, Félix Lambey, Clément Ric, Anthony Etrillard, Khatchik Vartanov. Replacements: Rémi Bonfils, Malik Hamadache, Tommy Raynaud, Arnaud Mela, Anthony Jelonch, Jean-Baptiste Pejoine, Anthony Belleau, Jean-Baptiste Dubie.