Rassie Erasmus, SA Rugby Director of Rugby, confirmed Handre Pollard is in line to play the Boks’ final Rugby World Cup Pool B match at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, but he has to come through the week of training first.
Springboks flyhalf Handré Pollard will play against Tonga on Sunday in Marseille – it’s just a matter of whether he will start or make his first 2023 Rugby World Cup appearance off the replacements bench.
Rassie Erasmus, SA Rugby Director of Rugby, confirmed Pollard is in line to play the Boks’ final Pool B match (kick-off 9pm) at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille but he has to come through the week of training first.
All indications are that the 2019 World Cup winner will be thrown in at the deep end but it’s expected he will swim against Tonga should he start.
The current world champions dominated Ireland’s forwards at the scrum and line-outs but missed 11 points off the kicking tee in the 13-8 loss to the Irish on Saturday.
Springbok kicking woes
Flyhalf Manie Libbok missed five points – a penalty and conversion – while back-up kicker Faf de Klerk struggled to convert two long-distance penalty attempts.
Pollard could be the solution to the goal-kicking conundrum, but has only about 40 minutes of rugby in his legs this season for English club side Leicester Tigers after picking up a calf injury.
It kept him out for about four-and-a-half months and he missed all of the Springbok Tests in the build-up to the World Cup, including the Rugby Championship.
But his return is imminent and the Boks will hope he finds his rhythm sooner rather than later.
“Handré is playing this weekend but let’s see first of all how Handré does the other stuff in the game,” Erasmus confirmed.
“Does he get through it on the contact side of things? I am sure he’ll also take some time to find his rhythm with his kicking under pressure.
“The Tonga one will be a great test for him as a yardstick to see where he is before we go – if we go – into those quarter-finals and who will be on the field.
“You have to see things in perspective: Handré Pollard is not Superman. Four weeks ago, he was totally not ready to play rugby.
“He hasn’t even run (at) full pace four or five weeks ago. He has only played 40 minutes of rugby.”
Pollard needs to be the complete package
According to Erasmus, they don’t want Pollard to just be on the field to do goal-kicking. He must be on the field to tackle, pass, do kick-offs, sidestep, clean out rucks and make hand-offs.
He joined the squad last week but did not go through all the sessions.
But this week, the 29-year-old will be put through the different tests to see if he is ready to start or make a return off the bench.
“This week will now be full-on contact, where he doesn’t sit out a session. That’s why I said he wasn’t up for selection last week. But we were always going to rotate the squad for the Tonga match, so he’s definitely up for selection for this match,” Erasmus said.
“Manie is certainly playing brilliant flyhalf rugby at the moment … obviously his goal-kicking is not matching that at this stage.
“If you weigh up the different things Manie does … It is like Deon Fourie’s line-out-throwing. I think he got four line-outs and one not straight but the scrums went really well.
“Manie is obviously in a bit of a dip with his goal-kicking. He knows it, we know it, the world knows it – everybody keeps on talking about it.
“When Faf (de Klerk) took one kick from 55 metres, he hit the upright and we almost scored from it. Faf is a really good goal-kicker but he is not always going to be on the field.”
On the Tonga threat, Erasmus said they have some brilliant individuals who can turn the match on its head when they have the opportunity.
Tonga lost 45-17 to Scotland a few days ago but the intensity they started the match with and never really going away until late in the game, will pique the interest of South Africa.
The Pacific Islanders possess a handful of ex-Tier One international players who have plenty of experience at the top level of world rugby.