Young star Handré Pollard is set to make his Springbok debut off the bench against Scotland on Saturday, and Junior Springbok coach Dawie Theron believes he is “100 percent” ready to play Test rugby.
Pollard was the talisman for the Junior Boks in their run to the IRB Junior World Championship final, which they lost 21-20 to England at Eden Park in Auckland this past Friday.
The former Paarl Gym schoolboy was also voted the IRB Junior Player of the Year, and while he would’ve been disappointed that his team failed to win the title, his long journey home was made sweeter when he was called up to the senior Bok squad on Saturday.
Pollard comes in for Morné Steyn, who is one of seven overseas-based players who have been released to their clubs by Saru due to IRB regulations regarding the June Test window.
But it is believed that Bok coach Heyneke Meyer won’t hand Pollard the senior No 10 jersey just yet. Meyer said in the aftermath of the dramatic 31-30 victory over Wales in Nelspruit at the weekend that Johan Goosen had recovered well from his knee injury and may play against Scotland, and it is known that Meyer is keen to see the Cheetahs pivot start a match to gauge where he is with his game.
In fact, the Bok coach stated a few weeks ago that he was planning to start Goosen in the World XV match at Newlands on June 7, but that injuries sustained by first-choice centres Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie meant that there was a lack of experience in the backline, which saw Meyer go back to the dependable Morné Steyn at flyhalf.
So Goosen is likely to wear the No 10 jersey against Scotland, with Pollard on the bench. And even if Goosen’s injury flares up again, Meyer may rather opt for the experience of Ruan Pienaar as an emergency measure at flyhalf than throw Pollard into the deep end. Lions pivot Marnitz Boshoff is also in the squad, but has hardly trained recently due to an ankle injury.
Pollard was outstanding for the Junior Boks, especially in their two victories over New Zealand on home soil, and his Under-20 coach is convinced that he can make the step up to senior international level.
“Well, Heyneke has already shown confidence in him, and I believe 100 percent that he would be able to do it. Handré is physical enough, he is big enough, and he has all the aspects to be a very big player. He’s got the opportunity now, and he still has to prove himself, but we all have a lot of confidence in him that he can do it,” Theron said upon arrival from New Zealand at Cape Town International Airport on Sunday.
“The whole team was unbelievably proud of him. To think back to three years ago where we found him and had to negotiate to get him out of matric.
“We said some players might go on the end-of-year tour, and now Handré Pollard is already in the Springbok group. He was a wonderful captain with wonderful leadership qualities.”
Apart from Steyn, the six other Boks who are not available for the Scotland Test are Francois Louw, Bryan Habana, Bakkies Botha, Schalk Brits, Gurthro Steenkamp and Wynand Olivier. So with Louw and Habana being first-choice players, Meyer will have to find replacements at left wing and flank and one would think that Lwazi Mvovo and Schalk Burger are first in the queue.
Both Mvovo and Burger have impressed off the bench against the World XV and in the two-Test series against Wales, with Burger performing strongly for the 55 minutes that he was on the field at Mbombela Stadium after Willem Alberts went off injured.
Greater clarity on Alberts’s condition should be available on Monday when Bok team doctor Craig Roberts addresses a press conference in Port Elizabeth, but even if Alberts is fit, a good move would be to pick Marcell Coetzee, who was in top form in Super Rugby, or Siya Kolisi, so that he can look at his options.
Hooker Adriaan Strauss has also completed his three-week ban for a dangerous tackle, so he should replace Brits. With Steenkamp unavailable, one of Marcel van der Merwe and Trevor Nyakane will come in as a reserve prop, while S’bura Sithole, JJ Engelbrecht and Paul Jordaan are the other fit centres in the squad.