Handre Pollard has always been the player for the big occasion, be it for Paarl Gym, Western Province Schools, SA Schools, the junior Springboks, the Bulls, Montpellier or the Springboks in a winning the 2019 World Cup final. And that makes him the perfect player to deliver the perfect performance against the British & Irish Lions, writes Oliver Keohane.
Handre Pollard was born for the big moments, and outside of the Rugby World Cup final – where he undoubtedly delivered on this assertion – it doesn’t get much bigger than a British & Irish Lions tour. Pollard scored 22 of the Springboks 32 points in their 32-12 thumping of England in the World Cup Final, and there is no reason to doubt that he will deliver similar performances against all of the UK’s best come July.
Pollard also has a history of these big moments, that stretch beyond just the World Cup final. Until this day, the only ever schoolboy to have been selected for the SA under 20s, Pollard kicked four penalties and a drop goal to guide South Africa to their first ever win IRB Junior World Championship win, over New Zealand at Newlands in 2012. He went on to represent the Baby Boks in 2013 and 2014 too, and though the they lost 21-20 to England in the 2014 final (where Pollard scored 10 points), he scored a try, kicked three penalties and two conversions to beat New Zealand in the semis and secure a finals position. He was also named the best junior player in the world.
Pollard made his international debut against Scotland straight off the back of the IRB Junior World Championship in 2014, and went on to score 13 points on debut. He then started five of the six Rugby Championship matches for the Boks that year and scored two tries and kicked nine points to beat the All Blacks (before being pulled off by Heyneke Meyer at 60 minutes) and end their nearly two-year unbeaten run at the time, as the Boks won 27-25. I repeat, Pollard was born for the big moments.
So outside of his BMT, what makes Pollard so special? For starters, just the fact that he’s recovered in time from a terrible knee injury is special in itself, but my view is that Pollard’s game is perfectly suited to facing a team like the British & Irish Lions.
At 6ft2 and 101kg, Pollard holds a physical presence that not many flyhalves in world rugby can claim. On defence he can’t and won’t be bullied by Northern Hemisphere heavies, and his strength and size allows him to be very direct in his running off of Faf De Klerk. In Pollard the Springboks have the build of an inside centre with the boot and brains of one of the world’s best flyhalves. His kicking statistics speak for themselves, in drop goals, penalties and conversions, and his last-second grubbers at the gain line have added a threatening dynamic to every team he’s played in, especially against sides employing a rush defence – as the Lions will most likely try to do.
Morne Steyn will be a huge asset to the Springbok squad throughout the series, but a primed Pollard will be the man steering the ship if everything goes accordingly. If one ever needs on-paper-proof of why he’s the man, go and read through a long list of accolades and records on Wikipedia. If you’d prefer to just be reminded by viewing some of his best moments, have a look below.