JOHANNESBURG - That is the plea from former Springbok No 10 Joel Stransky ahead of the Boks’ trip Down Under where they will face Australia and New Zealand over the next two weekends in this year’s Rugby Championship competition.
There have been suggestions from some quarters in recent days that Bok boss Rassie Erasmus should shift Pollard to inside centre to make way for either Elton Jantjies or 20-year-old Damian Willemse.
Stransky though said on Friday that moving Pollard to 12 – to solve the inside centre dilemma – wouldn’t help the Boks at all. “Pollard is undoubtedly the best flyhalf in the country and he’s best suited to 10,” stressed the 1995 World Cup winner.
“He might be struggling a bit at the moment, but there are very valid reasons for that. We’ve got a problem at 12 and moving Pollard there won’t solve that issue ... it’s like trying to patch up one problem area but then creating a problem elsewhere, at 10 again. Elton (Jantjies) has gone missing in big games and Damian (Willemse) is still a rookie. It makes no sense.”
Pollard hasn’t quite fired in the number 10 jersey since bursting onto the scene in 2014 when he scored two tries, kicked three conversions and one penalty in helping the Boks beat New Zealand at Ellis Park (27-25) in just his sixth Test match. He’d made his debut earlier that year and was at the time considered one of the bright young prospects in the world game. Even the New Zealanders raved about the 20-year-old.
He enjoyed a decent 2015 season, but was then rocked by career-threatening injuries in 2016 and only featured on the November tour of Europe in 2017, after returning from those injuries. This year, under new coach Rassie Erasmus, Pollard has been the first choice flyhalf.
“There’s no doubt Handre hasn’t yet lived up to the potential he showed as a junior and when he started out,” said Stransky. “But there are reasons for this ... he was hit hard by injury at a crucial time in his development and then he also played at a franchise (the Bulls) that was battling and recently going through something of an evolution, so he’s never settled into his role.
“Added to this, the Boks have blown hot and cold in recent times, had coaching changes and not at the Bulls or Boks has there been a winning culture. Handre, like many of the players in the current Bok set-up, hasn’t really had an opportunity to build any real confidence. He’s been playing under tough circumstances.”
Another former national flyhalf, Errol Tobias, said not Pollard nor Jantjies had ever really shown “spark” at flyhalf. “Pollard knows he’s first choice when he’s fit and the internal competition in the squad is lacking and that’s one of the reasons why there is no spark,” said Tobias. “Pollard plays well from set-pieces, but that’s about it.
“I’m also not sure if he and Faf de Klerk are suited ... Faf is a busy player, but he still takes two steps before he does anything and that’s not helping Handre. And then we’ve also got problems in midfield, where there’s little skill and organisational and leadership ability.”
Stransky said Erasmus simply has to persevere with Pollard at 10. “As the Bok team settles and grows, and when the pack starts gelling, he’ll come right. On his worst day he’s still a very good player ... he’s strong, physical, attacks the gain-line, is calm and defends well.”