Boks' prickly poser: What to do with Am and Pollard?
INTERVIEW: The Springbok selectors will have a few important, and difficult, selection decision to make ahead of their quarterfinal face-off against France in Paris this coming weekend.
While the forwards are basically selecting themselves, the return of two key players from injury – 2019 World Cup winners Handré Pollard and Lukhanyo Am – has added another layer of intrigue to the backline selection.
Assistant coach Mzwandile Stick admitted there are a few ‘head scratchers’ facing them.
Pollard may well have a more realistic chance than Am of playing in the quarterfinal.
Pollard will be up against Manie Libbok in a battle of contrasting styles – Pollard the steady, calming influence and Libbok the enigmatic playmaker.
Libbok may have had an off day against Ireland off the kicking T, but apart from his general play, he showed signs in his second-half cameo against Tonga that his goal-kicking radar is on target again.
“Him [Libbok] and Pollard, against Tonga, showed that on a good day, they can punish teams,” Stick said.
“It is tough for us, because we don’t know who to select, but it shows we are in a good space.”
Stick admitted team selection will make for some engaging deliberations.
“Having Handré Pollard and Lukhanyo Am back in our squad, will make it tough for us to select a matchday 23,” Stick said.
He said Pollard brings a lot of experience, which will be invaluable in the play-offs.
“The questionmark was always over Pollard’s fitness levels,” the Bok assistant said of a man who played only 30 minutes of English second-tier club rugby before rejoining the Boks -after being sidelined with a calf injury since May.
Having had a run against Tonga last Sunday, he showed he is fit and ready.
Handre Pollard showed his World Cup class and maturity when he slotted his first penalty in 13 months from the touchline.
Many thought it was a ‘huge’ gamble to draft Pollard in as a replacement for injured hooker Malcolm Marx.
He repaid that faith with a classy showing in the 49-18 win over Tonga in Marseille last weekend.
However, Am might be a more prickly poser.
Am joined the squad this past Wednesday, having completed his rehabilitation from a knee injury suffered in the 24-13 World Cup warm-up victory win over Argentina in Buenos Aires on August 5.
He replaced injured wing Makazole Mapimpi in the 33-man squad.
Mapimpi was been ruled out of the global showpiece after fracturing his ‘cheekbone’ in the 49-18 Pool B match against Tonga this past Sunday.
“I don’t think it will be fair for him to arrive and straight away play a game,” Stick said.
“It doesn’t mean we won’t consider him,” he said of Am, adding: “It is his first week training with the team.”
The assistant coach added that the return from injury of seasoned players like Pollard and Am is happening at the right time – just ahead of the play-offs.
“What we have seen from Lukhanyo Am in the training sessions, we have been surprised and impressed with the way he is distributing weight and how quickly he fits it.
“It seemed like he was never away.”
Stick added that if things go according to plan and the Boks qualify for the semifinals, Am will definitely be considered for selection.
“Pollard is super fit and training with the team very well.”
While being in a good space, in terms of available personnel, they will have some difficultly decisions to make this coming week.