Pollard v Mo'unga: Battle-hardened Bull faces young maverick
SUPER RUGBY SPOTLIGHT: You could not have asked for a more dulcet match – South Africa’s leading franchise against New Zealand’s top team.
That is in fact what will be on the menu at Loftus Versfeld on Friday: The Bulls hosting the Crusaders in a Round 13 crunch match.
However, just over four months out from the World Cup, the spectators get a sneak preview of one of the many subplots that could play out on the world stage in September.
Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard will pull the strings for the Bulls and All Black rival Richie Mo’unga will be the puppet master for the Crusaders.
Former Ireland flyhalf and current Crusaders backs coach Ronan O’Gara admitted the battle of the flyhalves will be key to the Loftus face-off between the Bulls and Crusaders.
The 24-year-old Mo’unga has been in such sublime form this season, many pundits believe he should be the All Blacks’ starting No.10 – ahead of Beauden Barrett.
Pollard has already settled the debate over who should wear the Springbok No.10 at the World Cup in Japan.
Speaking to @rugby365com during the Crusaders’ build-up to Friday’s Loftus battle, O’Gara said that he is excited to see the creative Mo’unga up against the experienced Pollard.
* Continue reading below …
“They are two big names,” the Irishman said of the flyhalf face-off.
“Handre [Pollard] is a little bit more established,” he said, adding: “Then you have the young maverick like Richie [Mo’unga], who is really finding his way in the world game.
“He has the capacity to play at a world level and has shown that he is a class operator.”
He admitted the forwards will, as always, play a role in the pivotal play-off.
“They will be looking to their packs to establish dominance, or parity, to make sure they can have a big influence on the game.
“They are two really good rugby players,” O’Gara added.
Mo’unga made his test debut against France in Dunedin in June 2018 and has eight Test caps for New Zealand.
Mo’unga has made 49 Super Rugby appearances for the Crusaders since making his debut for the Christchurch-based team against the Chiefs in 2016.
Pollard is more experienced, having made his Springbok debut in 2014 – going on to establish himself as South Africa’s first-choice flyhalf at the 2015 World Cup and looks a certainty to play a leading role for the Springboks during the 2019 World Cup.
Having made his Bulls debut in 2014, he has 50-odd Super Rugby games to his credit and 39 Test caps since his debut against Scotland that same year.
Looking at the two flyhalves’ statistics on attack and defence in the 2019 Super Rugby season, it makes for interesting reading.
Mo’unga has a goal-kicking accuracy of 69 percent – which includes 45 successes from 65 attempts.
Pollard has an 83 percent accuracy – with 66 successful kicks, from 80 attempts.
Pollard is winning the kicking and points battle.
Mo’unga has an average of 8.9 metres gained per run – which includes 65 carries for 577 metres.
Pollard has an average of just 6.2 metres gained per carry – which includes 33 carries and 203 metres.
Mo’unga has the edge in terms of attacking play.
However, looking at their defence stats, Pollard comes out top – with an 85 percent success rate, compared to Mo’unga’s 78 percent success rate.
These statistics do not paint the full picture.
They played very different opposition – with the Crusaders playing more local derbies against New Zealand teams, while the Bulls have featured in more derbies against South African teams.
As they say: Get the popcorn and strap yourself in!
By Josh Isaacson