The last time the Bulls and the Stormers met at Loftus, Handré Pollard probably had the better of Damian Willemse.
On Saturday, two of South Africa’s most exciting pivots meet again in the North-South derby at Newlands (3.05pm kickoff).
Rugby writers Vata Ngobeni (Bulls) and Wynona Louw (Stormers) rate them under the following headings: distribution, breaking the line, tactical kicking, defence and keeping calm under pressure
Handré Pollard (Bulls)
By Vata Ngobeni
Handré Pollard has got one of the best distributions in the competition with the ability to deliver a crisp and speedy service in both directions.
If it is not trying to put his centres into short gaps, then Pollard plays the role of second receiver very well, and getting his outside backs into the game. At the same time, Pollard has wisely added the kick pass to his game.
Breaking the line: 8/10
Pollard has never been shy to run with ball in hand, and he still does it with a lot of purpose and intent with his 94kg frame
With his size and speed Pollard is hard to stop, especially against his backline counterparts, but he is also a handful running at the straddling forwards.
Pollard can step with both feet, which is another arrow in his quiver, especially when breaking the line is not as easy as running straight.
Tactical kicking: 8/10
Often an area of the game that many attacking flyhalves struggle with, Pollard’s return to form has seen him also sharpen his game management and improve drastically on his tactical kicking.
Pollard is not wasteful with possession and when he does kick the ball, it is to gain his side valuable territory and to relieve pressure from his hard-working forwards.
He has been exceptional this season with his ability to find distance, while being deadly accurate with his touch-finders.
Built like a World War Two German Panzer tank, nothing really gets through Pollard. The bravery he shows on attack is the same as the courage with which he lunges himself into the tackle, regardless of whether it is a back or forward running into his channel.
Not too many teams have ventured into Pollard’s channel, and that is because of his steely defence, which has forced many opposing teams to look for weaknesses elsewhere.
Keeping calm under pressure: 9/10
Nothing seems to faze Pollard, and it is almost as if ice courses through his veins. The Springbok flyhalf has shown great temperament, which has seen him have the clarity of mind in making the right decision more often than not.
Be it on defence or attack, Pollard somehow affords himself more time and space than most No 10s in the competition.
Damian Willemse (Stormers)
By Wynona Louw
Remember his Man-of-the-Match performance in their impressive 37-20 win over the Blues? In that game, Willemse’s creativity on attack and his outstanding distribution helped the Stormers to a 24-3 lead at halftime.
And as good as his hands were in that game, it was no isolated case. One of the best examples of the quality of his passing game was when he played at centre for the Junior Boks, and he’s continued to show it at Super Rugby level.
Breaking the line: 9/10
Seeing Damian Willemse spin his way out of a tackle with his twinkletoes isn’t a rare occurrence. We’ve seen it few times this season, and the way he gets smothered by defenders as soon as he gets a whiff of the ball should say enough about his potency.
He’s managed to break through the first tackle or two many times this season, which says a lot about his obviously-gifted feet, as well as his deceptive power in contact.
Tactical kicking: 7/10
Willemse’s kicking wasn’t always up to standard last season, but as he’s continued to grow, so has his boot, especially his accuracy to touch.
He’s raked off good distances and he’s also put the opposition under pressure with his boot, sometimes right before chasing in an attempt to pick it up himself or just to put pressure on the opposition’s receiver. His out-of-hand kicking can still improve, though.
Willemse has become the South African poster child for lethal footwork and attacking know-how. As good as that is, his defence is also one of his strongest assets. No matter the size of the opponent, Willemse goes in for the hit. And he has driven them back on more than one occasion.
After a top defensive display in the 2017 Currie Cup, he’s racked up 72 tackles (missed 16) this season – with 15 dominant ones and a tackle completion of 82%.
Keeping calm under pressure: 7/10
Have there been enough high-pressure matches to rate Willemse’s BMT? Maybe not, but the matches after that sequence of horrors in Australasia were crucial. He was brilliant against the Blues and the Reds and good on the road.
He was outclassed by Pollard at Loftus, but what do you expect him to do if there’s little less than nothing happening upfront?
If he’d taken charge of all kicks to touch and goal-kicks this season, his cool-headedness would have been easier to assess, although his goal-kicking has been good.