Handre Pollard’s hazardous outing off the tee on Sunday afternoon cost the Springboks eight points and stood in stark contrast to Wallabies counterpart Quade Cooper, emphasising the need for a specialist kicking cover on the Springboks bench, writes Oliver Keohane.
Quade Cooper kicked eight from eight to contribute 23 points to the Wallabies 28-26 win over the Springboks on Sunday. Handre Pollard missed two penalties and a conversion, including a sitter from right in front of the poles. It simply was not good enough from Pollard, in possibly his worst game in a Springboks jersey, and his general control of the flow and out of hand kicking did not exactly do much to compensate.
At 66 minutes Pollard was pulled for Damian Willemse, who up until the Wallabies Test had featured for the Springboks at 15 and 12. It was a substitution made in the acknowledgment of a sub-standard display from Pollard and the need for something new to get the Boks going. Unfortunately, it was a substitution that also could not cover up for the obvious wound in the Springboks side that was the kicking tee.
Willemse came on and made a try-saving tackle on Wallabies captain Michael Hooper, but he also missed his only kick of the game. For all of Willemse’s talents, and he has many, he is not the goal-kicking insurance policy that the Springboks need at the moment. What the Boks need, as was shown in the most magnificent of ways on the 12th of July 2021, is a goal kicking flyhalf covering for Pollard on the bench.
Morne Steyn made history earlier this year by kicking the Springboks, for his second time, to victory over the British & Irish Lions, 12 years after he first did it (2009). He came on in place of Handre Pollard, who for all his contributions across the field, had also been having a shaky night from the tee.
At the moment, this is what the Springboks need. Handre Pollard is too good a player not to pick just because of goal kicking inconsistency, but in a Test environment, goal kicking is too big a factor to not insure your team for. The issue raises some serious questions about the Springboks selection approach, because it impacts their preferred 6-2 substitutes split.
The selection of a player like Damian Willemse or Frans Steyn makes complete sense because of their versatility, but it can’t be at the expense of a specialist goal-kicker when there is no guarantee that Pollard will be accurate on the night. This means either Willemse (or Steyn) drops out, or they are selected ahead of a lock or loose forward.
Morne Steyn has seen the peak of Test rugby pressure in front of a kicking tee many times, and many times he has pushed it aside to send the Springboks to victory. After this last season at the Bulls and his series win over the Lions, it would be irresponsible to risk not including him in the match-day squads going forward.
Handre Pollard is a brilliant rugby player and Willemse is such an exciting prospect, but Steyn is the man who must be backed to be that kicking comfort from the bench, because the Test arena will always demand the biggest moments and the smallest margins.
Handre Pollard off the tee this year
Kicks. Opp Points missed
4/5 v 🇬🇪(W 40-9) 2 points
4/6 v 🦁(L 17-22) 5 points
6/8 v 🦁(W 27-9) 5 points
3/5 v 🦁(W 19-16) 6 points
7/7 v 🇦🇷(W 10-29)0 points
4/7 v 🇦🇺(L 26-28) 8 points
28/38 = 73.68% success
75 points scored
26 points missed
— Jared Wright (@jaredwright17) September 13, 2021
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