‘Breath of fresh air’ Tony Brown wants Springboks' Handre Pollard to rediscover this trait

Springboks flyhalf Handre Pollard will have a lot more freedom to attack under attach coach Tony Brown. Picture: Clement Mahoudeau / AFP

Springboks flyhalf Handre Pollard will have a lot more freedom to attack under attach coach Tony Brown. Picture: Clement Mahoudeau / AFP

Published Jul 4, 2024


Springboks flyhalf Handre Pollard will go down in history as a match-winner with the boot, having missed just one kick at goal over two successive Rugby World Cup finals.

But as a youngster and as a young international, he was also known for his ability to take the ball flat on the gainline. He was especially effective in some matches against the All Blacks, scoring a few tries from close range during the first half of the Heyneke Meyer era, when the Boks certainly played a lot more with ball in hand.

Since then Pollard has only really taken the ball flat in the opposition half, especially with the Springboks’ gameplan centred around kicking off No 9.

The Springboks have tried to evolve their game plan a bit from 2022 with the emergence of Manie Libbok, which also coincided with Pollard missing a number of Tests because of injury.

While Libbok added some panache to the Springboks’ attacking effort, his erratic goal-kicking has always been a concern. It proved to be the case in the World Cup, where Pollard had to step in after being called up to replace injured hooker Malcolm Marx. It was a gamble that the Boks felt they needed to take.

But now new attack coach Tony Brown wants to combine Pollard’s deadly goal-kicking with that probably forgotten ability to take the ball flat and bring his inside and outside backs into play.

It’s all part of the Springboks collective strategy to use the ball a bit more, while not sacrificing their traditional strengths of physicality, strong defence and a good set-piece.

"With Handre being a little bit older and has been around a long time, I'm hoping that with a bit more time, we can build a good partnership and get him playing some really exciting rugby," said former All Black No 10 Brown.

"When I watched him play Under-20 rugby, he was the most dominant flyhalf at the gainline in the world as a 20-year-old. It's exciting for me and, hopefully, exciting for them to be coached differently."

Pollard seems to be up for the challenge, and we will have a second look at the Springboks’ new attacking intent when they take on Ireland on Saturday after seeing glimpses of it in the Test against Wales at Twickenham.

“It sounds good. I really enjoy Tony, he is really a breath of fresh air for us. We were privileged to have Felix and he was brilliant, but Tony just thinks about the game differently. He has experience all over the world and we enjoy him.

“If that gets us going a bit more over the gain line, then great. We have our plans for this weekend and we will try and implement them.”

Coach Rassie Erasmus knows the Boks need to evolve their game, especially when it comes to making use of their territorial advantage that comes with winning penalties at scrum time and when they get their maul going.

The Boks’ success rate in the red zone isn’t as good as the likes of Ireland, who have mastered the art of making their visits in the 22 count with some intricate passing. The only time they didn’t make it count, however, was in the World Cup quarter-final against All Blacks.

“With the background he [Brown] has had and the teams he has coached in the past, he has had to look for space in a different way than we are used to. We always rely on our strength and physicality to get us across the gain line. I think we as a group are at a point now where we can use more of our skillset and not be a one-dimensional team.

“Of course, we are never going to go away from our physicality, but the way he sees space and the way he sees our guys using our strengths to create more space for our outside backs, I think that is exciting.

“Against good defences like Ireland that is not always going to be the case, but if we can create a couple more opportunities for our outside backs, that is always good for us.”