Plenty to ponder as Boks explore depth at 10

The serious injury to Handre Pollard will force the Springbok coaches to explore other options at flyhalf, writes former Bok captain JEAN DE VILLIERS in the latest SA Rugby magazine.

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The Springbok coaching staff have much to ponder over the next six months or so. Despite confirmation that the national side will not compete, they will want to find one or two alternatives to Handre Pollard in that crucial flyhalf position before they tackle the British & Irish Lions in 2021.

What many people forget is that the Boks went into the 2019 World Cup final without a specialist flyhalf on the bench – with respect to Frans Steyn, who is primarily a centre for club and country these days. While that selection did not impede the Boks’ march to glory, it left the question unanswered.

Who is going to step into the void when Pollard is unavailable?

The question is still relevant now, a year after the 2019 World Cup. Pollard has been sidelined for an extended period with a serious knee injury. Personally, I believe it’s an important question in the context of the Lions tour and even the next World Cup in France. It’s time to consider alternatives and how a different individual could impact on the collective approach.

Pollard is the complete package at No 10. With his ability to dominate contact on attack and defence, he is ideally suited to the Boks’ style of play. And lest we forget, that style of play earned South Africa the Rugby Championship and World Cup titles in 2019. It’s taken the Boks to the top of the World Rugby rankings.

The coaches have an important decision to make. Do they favour a more experienced flyhalf with a slightly different skillset at 10 if Pollard is unavailable, or do they back a raw youngster who is perhaps a bit closer to Pollard in terms of his physical approach?

Elton Jantjies is the obvious alternative. He’s vastly experienced, takes the ball to the gainline, and boasts a world-class kicking game. His accurate goal-kicking would certainly be an asset in a big Test against the Lions. What Jantjies lacks, however, is Pollard’s physical presence on attack and defence.

Damian Willemse is a lot closer to Pollard in terms of his physical attributes and appetite for contact. He has all the skills, but is yet to really harness them to a team’s advantage. It’s one thing to dazzle as an individual and quite another to control the game from the No 10 position. I think that Willemse will get there, but he’s not there yet.

Curwin Bosch was outstanding for the Sharks prior to the lockdown. His attacking play and massive boot really amplified his team’s impact. I don’t think he will ever be a guy who smashes opponents back in the tackle, but he needs to improve to the point where he can look after his channel. That’s so crucial at Test level.

Manie Libbok can kick with both feet and is a wonderful attacking player. He hasn’t had a great deal of opportunities at Super Rugby level, though, and I don’t know how much he will be used at No 10 now that he’s at the Sharks – and effectively playing behind Bosch.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the players and the coaches adjust in the next few months. The aforementioned players have different skillsets, and yet none is a complete like-for-like replacement for Pollard.

Perhaps the negative of losing Pollard to injury should be viewed in a positive light. Pollard is expected to recover well ahead of the Lions series, and yet it’s best that the coaches wrestle with the problem of a suitable alternative sooner rather than later.

*This column first appeared in the latest SA Rugby magazine, now on sale!

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