Handre Pollard has had gotten a lot of stick after the Springboks had a disastrous Rugby Championship.
Some say that the Boks need Elton Jantjies and he should be dropped. However, should Pollard be the Bok 10, or is he no longer to be the Springbok controller?
To put things in perspective, let’s take a look at how this season has went for the Bok pivot. He was brilliant against Georgia, consistently smart and sharp in attack against the Lions, and had a solid game against Argentina.
He played a stinker against the Wallabies, but he got back the momentum with some decent attacking rugby with a mixed bag in the second game coupled with some rusty defence.
He had a solid game in Townsville with a strong attacking hand for 70 minutes, until the default Springbok ‘DNA kicking mode’ turned on and he kicked away good attacking ball.
This preceded a rather solid game in Gold Coast with lots of substance and a very well-rounded performance, bar the odd error.
While many would disagree with my take on his performance in the 101st Test, he passed pretty well and gave the attack direction and allowed Jantjies to float as a pocket pivot and pick his moments.
However, his goal-kicking has been simply off this entire season. A really good kicking strike against Argentina, before a terrible one against the Wallabies.
His kicking is just below 80 percent which is really bad by his own standards-it’s not terrible, but it’s not exactly what you need when the game rests on fine margins.
Personally, I came out with a 40-point scoring system for a player, with 10 points in each section.
Cognitive playmaking: 8/10
Slightly curtailed by the structure to kick, kick, and kick, but his marshalling and passing was excellent against Georgia.
Against the Lions he was extremely creative, with several magical moments but the Springboks didn’t use their attacking structures as much.
He directed play well against the Argies and was pretty holistic. He was rather consistent with the quality distribution and threatening darting steps, but his games against the Wallabies lacked the running to commit the defence and had several errors.
He got back his form against New Zealand and made some crisp passes, but the last 10 minutes in Townsville was atrocious. He played quite well and set the attacking structure to allow Jantjies to come on as a pocket playmaker and really scramble the All Blacks.
Tactical Kicking: 9/10
He was very accurate with the kicking, and the territorial kicks were very good downfield punts. His main weakness was following the structure too much and just hoofing it, but clearly that was a systemic problem and not a player issue.
Overall, he was quite outstanding with the kicking and it was perhaps his most consistent facet this year.
He was booming in defence against the Lions with massive tackles and intelligent reads. He was pretty solid throughout the Rugby Championship and I would have given him higher in this area had he not committed two try-conceding defensive errors against New Zealand and Australia respectively.
His strike rate this year stands at 73.8 percent which is awfully low by his own standards. However, one factor to consider is that the Boks go for really hard shots from tough corners in different parts of the field, thus bringing down his strike rate as he doesn’t have a 100 percent with those hard shots.
Overall, I rate him at 32/40 – far from his best, but also not so bad that it calls him to be dropped.
Meanwhile, those calling for his chop have their justification. He hasn’t been in top form this season despite having really good general play. This so happens to coincide with Elton Jantjies coming on at no.22 and sparking flash into the Springbok attack.
Squidge Rugby did point out that Janjities was far better connected into play than Pollard who often faded back when he was unneeded.
This was picked out in an extremely good video analysis by Squidge Rugby in ‘So how did South Africa take down the All Blacks? | The Squidge Report’, which I highly recommend.
Pollard is drifting out of the pod-shape, and while both he and Jantjies did an excellent job of directing the scrumhalf to pass to the most viable forward options, Jantjies is far better at being an out-the-back attacking option than Pollard.
Playing the role of a ‘membrane flyhalf’ has never really been in Pollard’s natural game, although his vision and skills are phenomenal when he is clicking. This is perhaps Pollard’s biggest limitation as an attacking 10. This is a stylistic problem, and I’m not sure if this can be fixed.
But if they want him to play in the pocket a bit more, they can first start by getting in touch with the club and ensuring that they develop a structure to utilise the flyhalf in such a manner.
The odd thing is, that while he can do the out-the-back option easily in phaseplay, he doesn’t execute in such a manner when the attack is static.
However, he is a vital component of the Springbok attack and brings a lot of value.
His sharp fizzy passes have become a feature of his game, and while it is often unnoticeable, it’s this fine margins with his passing that gives the Boks a slight edge in strike plays.
After a wonderful rolling maul, we have Pollard cleverly running the out-the-back line to provide options. He takes the ball, assesses his options, and sees that there is no need for him to run, and sends a crisp pass to Am that flatfoots Lienert-Brown.
This allows Am to use his agility to get outside the All Blacks and exploit the overlap.
He is a critical part of the first-phase plays that the Springboks use off lineout.
Here, he takes the ball deep from De Klerk, gets a decent running line and fires a lovely spiral into Lukhanyo Am to carry hard. While he does not add an extra threat behind the pod, he still stays available and is trying to work the ball into a good shape where he and Le Roux can exploit it.
His multi-phase floating is very good work and this would have come off if the Boks didn’t flash over to the blindside.
The structure has a 2-pod unit of backs and then a 3-pod of forwards, suggesting that Pollard is going to serve as a first receiver in this sequence to shape the attack.
However, Handre Pollard just isn’t Handre Pollard without the long flat fizzing passes.
His pass here brings so much fresh spark and momentum to the attack. It is perfect, and he take the ball directly to the line to do so. With this brilliant spiral-pass to Kolisi getting him outside the Lions defence, this allows the Boks to take the charge forwards and gain ground on attack.
Hence, Handre Pollard, while he was shaky in some points, had an overall pretty solid year. His contributions are rarely noticed, but he is extremely crucial in terms of getting the attack going.
While he may not operate in the manner of George Ford, Elton Janjities or Finn Russell(always lurking behind the pod to add an extra threat), he brings a unique kind of value to the Springbok attack.
He needs more ball, and also needs to be utilised with the Boks playing more multiphase rugby in the future. To the question, ‘To Be Or Not to be?’, I would leave the question to you, the readers.
Is Pollard playing well enough to deserve the spot, or should the Boks play with a more membranous kind of flyhalf?