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EXPLAINED: Why calling up Pollard makes sense

SPOTLIGHT: World Cup-winning flyhalf Handré Pollard took a giant leap closer to being called up to the Springbok team – in place of the injured hooker Malcolm Marx – after a successful comeback from injury.

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Pollard played 30 minutes for Leicester Tigers, kicking a crucial second-half penalty in an 18-14 win over Sale Sharks in a Premiership Cup match on Friday.

The final call will only be made after South Africa’s Round Two World Cup game against Romania, but coach Jacques Nienaber has not ruled out the possibility of calling up a flyhalf for Marx.

Marx went down at training this past Wednesday, after having his leg caught between the legs of a teammate in a contact session.

Addressing a media briefing at the team’s Bordeaux base on Friday, ahead of the face-off with Stejarii (The Oaks), Nienaber revealed that he will keep a close eye on the Springbok flyhalf, Pollard.

Having missed selection for the initial 33-man World Cup squad as a result of a calf injury he suffered towards the end of the 2022/23 Premiership season, Pollard travelled with Tigers to Manchester for the Premiership Cup encounter with the Sharks.

Leicester continued the unbeaten start to their 2023-24 campaign with the four-point away win.

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Ollie Hassell-Collins, who made it two tries in two weeks after scoring on debut in last weekend’s 50-6 win over Caldy at Welford Road, and Josh Bassett – in his senior club debut – were Leicester’s try-scorers.

Charlie Atkinson, with two penalties, and Pollard added the remaining points from the tee.

It almost certainly means Pollard’s name will be on the Bok team sheet come Monday morning.

When Marx went down in the training ground mishap, the anticipation was that Joseph Dweba – as a member of the ‘standby squad’ back in South Africa – would be called up.

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However, heavy hints were dropped that it won’t be a like-for-like replacement.

Pollard’s name repeatedly popped up in conversations on Friday and it makes sense why the Springboks will persist with the metamorphosing of Marco van Staden back to hooker.

Bringing in Dweba will #NOT be a like-for-like replacement for Marx.

Dweba, as a hooker and player, is a lot more similar to Sunday’s captain Bongi Mbonambi – a hard-working, straight-up-the-ally type of grinding No.2.

Van Staden, who will start on the flank against the Oaks on Sunday, is set to get game time at hooker – rotating with fellow utility Deon Fourie in the second half.

Expect to see Fourie and Van Staden both getting good minutes in the front row on Sunday.

When, as can be expected, Van Staden moves to the hooker position, Fourie will revert to flank in a move that will cause a lot of debate.

Both Van Staden and Fourie bring more of a Marx-type game to the Boks – being able to roam in the wider channels and cause havoc at the breakdown.

However, the Bok management, led by Nienaber, has been prepping Van Staden and Fourie for the conversion back to hooker for some time.

(WATCH Marco van Staden talking about playing hooker for the Springboks…)

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“Practicing at hooker already started in the alignment camps,” Van Staden told @rugby365com on Friday.

He added that it was a ‘just in case’ move when he started working on his line-out throwing and scrum technique.

The 28-year-old said he is “very comfortable” with his new role in the team, and hooker is a position he played before being ‘converted’ to flank.

“I moved to the Bulls, on trial, as a hooker,” the 15-times capped Krugersdorp,-born and schooled Bok said of his arrival in Pretoria in 2017.

He made his Test debut, off the bench, against Argentina a year later.

“In my junior years I played hooker,” he said, adding: “I moved to flank after arriving in Pretoria.

“Player hooker in a World Cup game will be different, but coach Jacques [Nienaber] and the other hookers have helped me a lot in training.”

Asked about the challenge of scrumming, he said he works hard on strengthening his neck in the gym.

“It is not like scrumming at flank, but training there helps a lot.

“I feel comfortable [playing] there.”

@king365ed
@rugby365com

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