CAPE TOWN – Springbok coach Allister Coetzee says Handré Pollard’s progress since recovering from injury gives him “a lot of confidence” in selecting the Bulls flyhalf for the Australasian leg of the Rugby Championship.
Pollard, who comes into the touring group in the place of Curwin Bosch – who was released to the Sharks for Currie Cup duty – was named in Coetzee’s squad on Tuesday after taking part in team training over the last couple of weeks.
Pollard has accumulated 20 Test appearances since making his international debut in 2014, but has played very little rugby in the last 16 months due to ankle and knee injuries that have kept him out.
And after the team’s arrival at the Cape Town International Airport on Tuesday, Coetzee said that he was “tempted to select him” for their Championship-opening match against Argentina in Port Elizabeth already.
“Handré has made tremendous strides since he joined us in Stellenbosch and the two weeks in Port Elizabeth – I was tempted to select him then.
“But I thought another week with regards to his conditioning, his out-of-hand kicking and his kicking to posts (would be good)… we’ll see on Friday,” the Bok coach said.
“Sometimes people say ‘why doesn’t he play Currie Cup’. Our intensity at which we train is higher than match intensity, and there’s the physical component as well. The way he’s responded gives me a lot of confidence to select him.”
Pollard’s inclusion, and the fact that Coetzee seemed very pleased to welcome the 23-year-old back into the squad, places a huge question mark over the role of Elton Jantjies at flyhalf.
The Lions playmaker had a good outing in PE and an even better one in Salta as he controlled the game well and added a few great touches to claim the Man-of-the-Match award.
Coetzee also said that he was excited to see Bosch, who made his debut off the bench at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, apply with the Sharks what he’s learned while in the Springbok camp.
“We will have to manage Bosch correctly. He will play for the Springboks for a very long time… he’s done well. I’d like to see the confidence he’ll take back to the Sharks.
“Continuity is crucial, but after a couple of minutes and the weeks he’s been with the Springboks, you can see the confidence oozing out of the youngster and he’s learned a helluva lot.
“If there’s an injury, I won’t have any problems selecting him (Bosch) again.”
In-form Stormers back Dillyn Leyds has also been recalled to the Bok set-up to replace Cheetahs centre Francois Venter, while fit-again scrumhalf Ross Cronjé is also back in the mix in the place of Jano Vermaak, who was called up when the Lions No 9 was ruled out of the second Test against Argentina due to injury.
And although Coetzee seems to have opted for continuity, he added that the Championship squad is not set in stone.
“Dillyn Leyds is back again – the guys go back to Currie Cup and they perform, and that’s what we want to see. So once a guy’s out of a leg, it doesn’t mean he’s out of the squad completely. Things can change in a week.
“The competition is healthy at the moment, the team is in a good place.”
Meanwhile, the Springboks will know the full extent of the rib injury to Coenie Oosthuizen on Wednesday as the prop, who produced a massive Man-of-the-Match performance in Port Elizabeth, underwent scans on Tuesday.
It is also understood that Lions prop Ruan Dreyer is likely to feature for the Golden Lions this weekend, despite being named in the Bok squad for the Australasian leg.
In terms of their preparation, Coetzee added that one of the biggest goals from here on is to build on what they’ve achieved so far in their five wins in five matches.
“I feel comfortable with the preparation we’ve done, all areas of our game have improved, and we’ve just got to keep up with the effort that we’ve put in, in terms of our intensity and our work-rate,” he said.
“We’re looking at this as three phases, and phase one has just been completed – which was the home and the away legs. We’re very happy with the result in Salta.”
The Springbok coach was also wary of an Australian side that has shown a lot of improvement since last year – which was especially evident in their 34-29 defeat to the All Blacks at the weekend.
“It’s a different beast waiting that side (Australia). It’s always tough going to Australia and (facing) the way they play, they’re reaching form as well. The team that played against the All Blacks are really improving.
“They made a couple of mistakes in the first game, they got punished for it and they put New Zealand under pressure in the second Test.
“The ball-in-play rate is always high, they’re very clever with the set-piece, especially the lineout and their mauling. So, it’s going to be a massive challenge.”
The Springboks face the Wallabies in Perth on September 9 and meet the All Blacks a week later in Auckland.