Now for the real deal!
Handré Pollard has three Junior World Cups behind him, he’s made his debut for the Springboks, but his biggest test awaits in the coming months – the Rugby Championship.
The 20-year-old flyhalf is set to be named in the Boks’ 30-man Rugby Championship squad today for the double round of fixtures against Argentina, Australia and New Zealand from August 16 until October 4, with national coach Heyneke Meyer almost certain to pick him as first choice No 10.
Pollard enjoyed a successful debut against Scotland in June, just a week after the Junior Boks lost the Under-20 World Cup final to England, and South Africa’s hopes of winning the Rugby Championship competition will rest heavily on the young Bulls man’s shoulders.
Meyer has always spoken highly of Pollard and recruited him to the Bulls even before he’d left school and it would appear his time has now come to take the Boks forward and into next year, when Meyer’s team will be among the favourites to win the World Cup on English soil.
With Morné Steyn and Johan Goosen now playing their rugby abroad, Elton Jantjies spending half the year in Japan and falling behind Marnitz Boshoff in the Lions pecking order, Pollard is the man Meyer has identified to lead the Bok charge from now on.
Pat Lambie, of course, remains in the national selection mix, but he’s just returned from a long injury layoff and may have fallen behind Pollard in the No 10 queue.
While the man who’s been likened the most to Bok great Naas Botha has done well for the Bulls and Junior Boks, his greatest challenge will come in the next two months. He’ll play under more pressure than he’s experienced up to now and against some of the finest No 10s in world rugby, among them Quade Cooper and Dan Carter. But in Pollard Meyer knows he has a player with all the skills and mental strength to succeed at the highest level.
“I’ve always had a lot of confidence in Handré. He is a special player, who has some brilliant touches. He is big and strong and he is very mature for his age,” said the Bok boss recently.
While Pollard’s elevation to the Bok fold is a boost for Meyer and the team’s chances at next year’s World Cup, the return from injury of Jean de Villiers, Damian de Allende and Eben Etzebeth will further bolster the Boks in the Rugby Championship.
There are not likely to be surprises in the squad named by Meyer, with Scarra Ntubeni set to be the third choice hooker, if he is fit, while Meyer may opt to go into the competition with just two scrumhalves, Francois Hougaard and Ruan Pienaar. Fourie du Preez is unavailable because of injury, while JP Pietersen and Schalk Burger – both of whom featured in June – are also not available because they’re now playing club rugby in Japan.
Frans Steyn, who walked out of the Bok squad in June following an alleged dispute with Saru over matters in his national contract, is also headed to Japan, but would not have made the squad anyway.
He declared himself unavailable for selection and it is understood he has a few bridges to mend before he will play for the Boks again.
The squad will be led by Jean de Villiers, who’ll take over the captaincy from Victor Matfield, who filled the role during the June Test window.
Backs: Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks, Lwazi Mvovo, Bryan Habana, Juan de Jongh, Damian de Allende, Jean de Villiers, Jan Serfontein, S’bura Sithole, Morné Steyn, Pat Lambie, Handré Pollard, Ruan Pienaar, Francois Hougaard
Forwards: Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Siya Kolisi, Marcell Coetzee, Victor Matfield, Eben Etzebeth, Flip van der Merwe, Lood de Jager, Jannie du Plessis, Coenie Oosthuizen, Beast Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Scarra Ntubeni. - Saturday Star