The numbers that put Pollard back in the Bok seat
SPOTLIGHT: Handre Pollard showed his World Cup class and maturity when he slotted his first penalty in 13 months from the touchline.
However, there were other indicators – including some telling statistics – that point to the quality of the seasoned flyhalf.
Many thought it was a ‘huge’ gamble to draft Pollard in as a replacement for injured hooker Malcolm Marx.
However, he repaid that faith with a classy showing in the 49-18 win over Tonga in Marseille at the weekend.
It was not so much his 100 percent strike rate off the kicking T, but rather the other aspects of his game – including a 100 percent tackle success rate that prompted coach Jacques Nienaber to say: “He put some proper shoulder hits in.”
The 29-year-old was initially ruled out of this World Cup in France with a niggling calf injury, but returned to competitive action earlier this month with his English club Leicester in a second-tier Premiership Cup match.
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“I enjoyed it very much, it was so much fun,” he said of what he described as a ‘really physical’ game in which Tonga kept coming at the Boks.
“Just on a personal note it was nice to play again and I enjoyed myself out there,” said Pollard.
He admitted that playing his first Test in 13 months was a “challenge”, but added that the Bok training sessions are structure in such a way as to prepare the players for the rigours of matchday.
“I was just trying to get my head in there and make my tackles,” he said, adding that the Boks were “ruthless” on defence.
Having missed out on selection for the initial 33-man World Cup squad, Malcolm Marx’s unfortunate training ground mishap opened the door for him.
He described his belated call-up as a “crazy, crazy rollercoaster”.
“There have been extreme lows, of course, early on and extreme highs to get recalled so really just great to be back in the environment with the boys.
“Hopefully I’ll contribute as much as I can in whatever role that may be, I am just here to help the team succeed and I am excited.”
Pollard was instrumental as South Africa ran out 49-18 winners over Tonga in Marseille, a bonus-point victory that puts them on the brink of the quarter-finals but not quite mathematically there.
“It’s out of our hands,” said the 66-times capped No.10.
“We have got to prep for whoever we play and if we don’t play that is how the game goes,” he said, with Pool B to be determined after Ireland take on Scotland in Paris on Saturday.
“We played the game out there and we tried our best.
“We have just got to wait and see what happens next.”
Pollard quickly praised Manie Libbok, who kicked a couple of tough conversions after coming on as a replacement with 30 minutes to play.
“Manie kicked extremely well when he came on,” Pollard said.
“I think it’s a great thing as a kicking unit.
“There has been a lot of heat on us for that but after that we can take this forward with a lot of confidence.”
Libbok expressed his relief at an improvement in his goal-kicking.
“It’s something I worked on really hard in the past week or so,” the 26-year-old flyhalf said.
“I’m just happy that it came off nicely today. Handre also kicked very well,” he added.
“In everything we work together.
“Handre is a world-class flyhalf and player.
“I’ve learned a lot from him, he helped me a lot in terms of the game itself.
“For me, it’s nice to work with him and learn from the best.”