VIDEO: Nienaber's fears and expectations for Pollard
REACTION: Handre Pollard’s recall to the Springbok team, after a year in the international wilderness, brings with it some obvious risks.
Pollard will play his first Test since August 2022, when South Africa faces Tonga in a #MustWin World Cup Pool B encounter in Marseille on Sunday.
The outcome of this match will be crucial as the Boks hope to keep their title defence alive.
Pollard, 29, makes his first Springbok appearance since playing against Australia in Adelaide on August 27 last year – with injury having sidelined him for 13 months and 16 Tests.
Bok coach Jacques Nienaber said he opted for an additional flyhalf on a bench – with a split of five forwards and three backs – because there is uncertainty if Pollard could go the distance.
“If you look at Handre, he hasn’t played top-level club rugby since the first weekend in May,” the coach said, adding: “It’s about 19 weeks ago and in that 19 weeks, he’s only played 30 minutes and that was in the Premiership Cup [for Leicester Tigers against Sale Sharks] a fortnight ago.
“There’s a good possibility that he probably would struggle to get through an intense game, a good probability that he might cramp up.
“That’s why we went with the five-three split and have Manie [Libbok] on the bench just for cover.”
Nienaber said one of the reasons they delayed his return was to ensure he doesn’t aggravate the injury by returning to soon.
(Jacques Nienaber speaks about his fears and expectations for Handre Pollard …)
“His club, Leicester Tigers, also made sure he was 100 percent fit before playing him and then he only played one half,” the coach said.
“They ensured he recovered enough to take the full load of a week’s training and then play in a game.
“We will also slowly build him up, but I will be surprised if he lasts the full 80.”
Asked what his expectations of Pollard are, he said a good dose of ‘reality’ is required.
“He hasn’t played for the Boks in 13 months,” he told @rugby365com.
“He hasn’t played international rugby for more than a year.
“He also hasn’t played top-level rugby since the first week in May, which is 19 weeks ago.
“In saying that, he’s a quality player and we all know that.
“He’s won a World Cup before, he’s won a British & Irish Lions series before.
“So he understands what international rugby and top international rugby is about.
However, I think we must stay real in that and give him time to settle in and get used to the pace of it.
“Because he is such an experienced player, because he knows what it is all about, he will settle into his stride a lot quicker than a younger or less experienced player.
“What do I expect of him? A realistic performance – given that he hasn’t played a Test for 13 months and that he only played 40 minutes [of club rugby] in 19 weeks.
“That is the reality.”