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'We’ll be ready' - Return of influential Pollard a huge boost for the Boks

The 27-year-old out-half is out of Covid isolation ahead of the first Lions Test.

Pollard is a key figure for the Boks.
Pollard is a key figure for the Boks.

IT’S NOT THAT long ago that there were questions marks over whether Handré Pollard really was the out-half to guide the Springboks forward.

His passing game wasn’t as fluid or accurate as other playmakers, he wasn’t rated as someone with real attacking vision, and there was clamour for players with a bit more flair to be chosen in South Africa’s number 10 shirt.

But Rassie Erasmus came in, backed Pollard wholeheartedly, and has been rewarded by the 27-year-old blooming into one of the finest out-halves in the game. 

His tactical kicking, mental strength, place-kicking, and attacking flourishes were all crucial in the Boks winning the 2019 World Cup. His calm personality was evident in big moments off the tee in their narrow semi-final win over Wales, with that trait proving infectious for those around him as Pollard ran the game plan along with Faf de Klerk.

At 6ft 2ins and close to 100kg, Pollard is a big man for an out-half and his defensive quality is a major strength too. There is no need to hide this 10 when the Boks are defending.

Pollard relishes the physical stuff and it means that he is also a good ball-carrier when required to hold onto the ball in traffic.

His attacking decision-making and passing have improved notably in recent years, unveiling plenty of the vision that Boks fans had been calling for. His classy offload and then a clever linebreak before Damian de Allende’s crucial try in that Wales semi-final were outstanding case studies of the growth of Pollard’s game in that area.

Of course, he is more than capable of boxing clever within the Boks’ kick-heavy game plan. Hanging garryowens are one of his calling cards but he can kick long to find grass and deliver an array of attacking kicks too.

england-v-south-africa-2019-rugby-world-cup-final-yokohama-stadium Pollard celebrates the Boks' World Cup success. Source: Ashley Western

All of this is to underline just how important a player Pollard is for the Springboks and how huge a lift it is for Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber to have him available for Saturday’s first Test against the Lions.

37-year-old Morné Steyn and Elton Jantjies, a different type of out-half, simply aren’t in the same class as Pollard.

The Montpellier man, who spent much of this season out with an ACL injury, was one of the Boks who recently tested positive for Covid-19, forcing him into self-isolation, but Pollard is now back in training and raring to go.

“I didn’t have any symptoms so I got back to training pretty quickly,” said Pollard today. “Physically I’m OK. It was very strict once we went into the Covid wing of the hotel.

“The first five or six days were spent in your room, giving your body time to fight whatever it’s got to fight, then we were provided with the necessary gym equipment in our rooms.”

Pollard also used the time to closely analyse the Lions’ game, picking out potential weaknesses that he and de Klerk will look to exploit this weekend, as well as taking note of the strengths they need to negate.

“They weren’t challenged as hard as they probably would have liked in those first few games,” said Pollard of the Lions. “But we saw glimpses of what they do when they are under pressure and they are probably expecting more of that.

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“I don’t think it’s a big secret what’s coming up. The two sides will play pretty similar games and it’s going to come down to the physicality, set-pieces, and the basics. It always comes back down to that when it’s big Test match rugby.”

south-africas-handre-pollard Pollard has developed hugely as a player in recent years.

While the Boks’ build-up has been hampered by their Covid outbreak, there is a typical no-excuses mentality emanating from Pollard and his team-mates.

It’s textbook Erasmus to turn these challenges into a motivating factor and Pollard underlined that the Boks will be ready for battle on Saturday.

“There is no way we are not going to be ready, playing against the British and Irish Lions, playing for your country,” said Pollard.

“Emotionally, physically, we are all fine. We’ve had hard weeks of training. The way we train is harder than the game, so we’ll be ready for whatever comes our way on Saturday.”

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Murray Kinsella

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