The Ultimate Springbok World Cup Final XV: Pollard the pick of the flyhalves
As part of The Glory of '95 series, three of IOL Sport's rugby writers decided to pick their ultimate Springbok World Cup Final XV. Today we look at the flyhalves.
Candidates: Joel Stransky (1995), Butch James (2007), Handre Pollard (2019)
Who could ever forget Joel Stransky’s drop goal in the 1995 final? And what about Jannie de Beer’s incredible five drop goals in the 1999 quarter-final?
Butch James also steered the Bok backline to victory at the 2007 edition.
But for me, Handre Pollard has set the standard as the Springbok flyhalf at Rugby World Cups.
And it is not just his heroic displays in the title-winning effort in Japan last year that has swayed my vote in his favour.
Don’t forget that as a 21-year-old, Pollard scored 93 points in the 2015 tournament in England – just four fewer than top man Nicolas Sanchez – as he played ahead of Pat Lambie and Morne Steyn at No 10.
He knocked over five penalties and a drop goal under enormous pressure in the quarter-final against Wales, before Fourie du Preez’s try in the corner clinched a 23-19 victory.
Pollard continued his goal-kicking form in the semi-finals, where he brought the Springboks to within a whisker of beating the All Blacks with five penalties.
There were 14 more points from the boot in the third-place playoff against Argentina, but Pollard would taste glory in Japan in 2019.
He didn’t have the best of games in the tournament opener, with the Boks going down to the All Blacks, although he landed a fine drop goal to make it 17-13.
Pollard was under pressure going into the semi-finals due to a 60-odd percent goal-kicking rate, despite still playing well.
But he stepped up when needed, and produced a Man-of-the-Match performance with 14 points in a 19-16 triumph over Wales in the semi-final, which included a difficult penalty from 40 metres to secure the win.
He also made one powerful run into the Wales 22, from where Damian de Allende rampaged past a few defenders to score the only Bok try.
Pollard again had his kicking boots on in the final against England, where he landed eight out of 10 for a 22-point haul in the biggest match of his life.
Ashfak’s Choice: Handre Pollard
South Africa have won three World Cups but the defining image of all those triumphant campaigns remains Joel Stransky’s drop goal soaring between the uprights at Ellis Park in 1995.
It remains the greatest moment in the Springboks’ seven World Cup tournaments to date.
Speaking of drop goals, there were five of them from Jannie de Beer in the 1999 quarter-final victory over England, which is one of the greatest ever feats in World Cup history, full stop. He had come into the side because first-choice Henry Honiball had a hamstring strain and it was interesting to hear after the Boks’ had lost to a Stephan Larkham drop goal in the semi-final that the Aussies had been relieved that Nick Mallett had kept De Beer for the semi and not recalled the feared Honiball. Both were exceptional flyhalves.
In the next World Cup, Derick Hougaard was the flyhalf, and he did okay but was part of a poor team that never got going in that World Cup.
In the 2007 triumph, Butch James was solid without setting the world on fire; in 2011 Morne Steyn was in good form but the Boks’ World Cup was over by at the quarter-final stage.
Handre Pollard was good in 2015 and excellent last year in Japan, and is unlucky to lose out to my choice, Stransky.
The latter had a brilliant ‘95 World Cup in how he perfectly executed Kitch Christie's game plan and, of course, he stepped up to the plate when his team and country needed him to nail that epic drop goal.
My choice: Joel Stransky.
Jacques van der Westhuyzen
There are 15 players in a rugby team but no-one generates as much debate as the man who wears the No 10 on his back. He is the most discussed and dissected player in the team, and it has been like that for generations.
Three flyhalves have helped lead the Boks to glory, and all are so different from each other. Joel Stransky will mainly be remembered for THAT drop-goal in 1995, Butch James will be remembered as the hard-tackling No 10 and Handre Pollard for his excellent all-round game in 2019.
Stransky only played 22 Tests, but he made every one of them count. He was a cool operator who varied his game well and while he was not the biggest tackler around he attacked well and kicked superbly - at goal and out of hand. He was so impressive in 1995 that coach Kitch Christie’s first choice flyhalf, Hennie le Roux, had to shift to inside centre.
Twelve years later, James was Jake White’s first choice No 10 (mainly because Jaco van der Westhuyzen had simply not shaped at Test level) and what a tournament the powerful and intimidating Sharks man had in France. He carried the ball strongly, kicked well out of hand, and stood back for no-one and nothing in defence. James was something of an unsung hero in 2007; he didn’t put a foot wrong and led the backline superbly.
For me though Pollard just edges this selection. Having recovered from some serious injury setbacks, the former Bulls man has become what everyone hoped he’d become; the complete No 10.
Not only did Pollard kick beautifully in the final against England in November last year - converting six penalties and two conversions - he lead the team superbly by varying his game and bringing calm to the back division. He was - and has always been - “unfussed” under pressure; a player those around him can trust and rely on.
In Japan, Pollard kicked well at goal and out of hand, but we also know what an attacking threat he is, playing close to the gain line and by running hard at the opposition. He’s also a mean tackler and at 26 is likely to wear the Bok No 10 jersey for some time to come.
Jacques' choice: Handre Pollard