DURBAN - Springbok coach Allister Coetzee hinted yesterday that he has not ruled out the possibility of selecting Handre Pollard at flyhalf for Saturday’s tour opener against Ireland in Dublin (7.30pm kickoff).
While Coetzee has mostly been beating the consistency drum for the last three weeks, when put on the spot at a press conference yesterday he suggested that Elton Jantjies’ recent absence from the squad because of his commitments in Japan could count against him.
“A good question to ask is that with Elton having been away for a few weeks and not training with us, do I go with him or opt for Handre who has been running in the position for three weeks?” Coetzee posed. “That is a decision I have to make in terms of how well prepared Elton is going to be for the game versus the fact that Handre has been with us three weeks."
Jantjies has started every one of the Boks’ 10 matches this season and for seven of them has been in tandem with his Lions teammate Ross Cronje.
Pollard the first-choice flyhalf for the Boks at the Rugby World Cup in 2015 after coming in for Pat Lambie following the opening round defeat to Japan, has barely played since because of injury and this year has had just two appearances for the Boks, both off the bench in the Rugby Championship matches against the All Blacks (home and away).
It would be a big call for Coetzee to drop Jantjies for Pollard, but it is clearly one he is prepared to make. The coach says he is expecting an extremely tight match in heavy conditions and the Boks are preparing for an aerial bombardment from the Ireland halfbacks and a territorial dual between the respective back threes, not to mention the flyhalves.
Earlier in yesterday’s press conference, Coetzee said: “We have achieved a good balance in our halfback play this season. Compared to last year, we are now getting a lot more lineouts in the right areas because our kicking plan has improved. Hopefully, we can build on that. Our halfbacks have done the job. Ross and Elton have generally been consistent. Everybody will have their off days or moments in games, but I am pleased with how they have gone.”
Coetzee said that the coaching staff had a close examination of their options (at flyhalf) at yesterday's training session, the first major hit-out of the tour.
“It is a tricky question to answer (has the coach settled on his halfback combination),” Coetzee mused. “Confidence comes with continuity and this gives you momentum (on the one hand).
“Confidence is a massive thing in general in rugby. You have to rock up on the day confident to win the small battles and not focus on the outcome. For instance you will have your scrum battle, line-out battle, breakdown battle and territory battle. If you say there are five big battles and you win three of them, you have a good chance of getting the right result.”
In another possible hint that Pollard could play, Coetzee emphasised the need for goal-kicking accuracy at the Aviva Stadium. Jantjies can blow hot and cold in this department but, then again, while Pollard is a renowned sharpshooter, training and match situations are very different.
“You have to have scoreboard pressure in your favour in a close Test (which the Boks are expecting),” Coetzee said. “You have to keep the scoreboard ticking. Whatever chances you get, you have to take. In the northern hemisphere, if three points are on offer, you take them.”