VIDEO: The Pollard and Libbok debate settled
Handré Pollard has ‘ticked enough boxes’ in his first Test back after 13 months to put his hand up for a starting spot in the World Cup play-offs – if the Springboks should progress.
However, it is going to be a ‘tough call’ to make between him and Manie Libbok, who seems to have reset his goal-kicking radar.
Pollard, 29, kicked a perfect four-from-four as South Africa scored seven tries in a 49-18 win over Tonga in their final pool match of the World Cup at Stade de Marseille on Sunday.
The 66-times capped Springbok showed no signs of rustiness or nerves as he made his first Test appearance since August last year and with only 30 minutes of a Premiership Cup (second tier) match since his calf injury in May.
Pollard did not stand back on defence, while his game management was also from the top shelve.
He executed a high kick to gift Canan Moodie his try – a successful and welcome return to the Test arena.
Coach Jacques Nienaber was satisfied with both his flyhalves – Pollard and Manie Libbok, who seemed have benefited from the presence of the veteran in the camp.
It seems there may well be room for both in the Bok matchday squad.
“Handré, the important part is he had 30 minutes at Premiership Cup level, which is a little bit below international [level],” Nienaber said.
“Tonight [Sunday] he got 50 minutes against a proper Tonga side that has got better as the tournament has gone on.
“They are a team who will just improve the more they play tier-one nations.
“Tonga has some top players that have played for New Zealand, and Australia. Some of them play for the Crusaders, Toulouse, so they know what rugby is about.
“He [Pollard] got a proper Test match against that.
“He got through 50 minutes.”
Nienaber had a very pragmatic view on Pollard’s performance.
“I think he will just get better.
“I think he was solid.
“You look at his ball carries – that was decisive and good.
“His defence, I thought his level changed well and he put some proper shoulder hits in.
“I thought his off-the-ball work was good and his kicking game in general was good.
“The fundamentals [for which] we wanted him to tick the boxes, I think he ticked tonight [Sunday].”
(WATCH as Springbok Jacques Nienaber shares his views on Handré Pollard’s first Test in 13 months….)
South Africa’s Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus said this past Sunday was the first time the two combined, suggesting it is a bit ‘premature’ to make a final call on the viability of which way the combination could go.
“Manie [Libbok] has proven himself, with the way he has played in general play for us ][the Springboks],” the SARU boss said.
With a 100 percent success rate off the kicking T on Sunday – four-from-four for Pollard and three-from-three for Libbok – the goalkicking fears have been somewhat allayed.
However, it remains a tough call to make over who must start and who should play off the bench.
“If we go five-three [split of forwards and back on the bench] then maybe both can be on the bench,” Erasmus said.
“If we go six-two it is still a possibility, but if we go seven-one then things will look different.”
He played down the renewed debate around Libbok’s goal-kicking, pointing to a number of missed try-scoring opportunities in the loss to Ireland as a much bigger concern.
“We want to play a more attacking game and Manie gives us that opportunity,” Erasmus said, adding: “He worked really hard with Handré [Pollard} on his goalkicking.
“Manie is a very interesting character when it comes to things like that.
“It doesn’t seem like it bothers him in the rest of his game and is something special to have.
“It would be nice to have him on the park for general play and someone who can back him up if he does have a bad day [off the kicking T].”
He added that players like Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jean Kleyn, RG Snyman, Faf de Klerk who didn’t play against Tonga and Franco Mostert only had a brief cameo will come into the selection frame if/when they sit down to decide on the quarterfinal line-up.
“We will have to have to consider it very carefully,” Erasmus said, adding that the team will only be announced internally to the squad on Sunday and to the public later in the week.
If the Boks finish first in the pool, they will play at Stade de France on Saturday (October 14) and if they finish second they will play at the same venue on Sunday (October 15).
* Picture credit: Steve Haag Sports