Handre Pollard must start South Africa’s quarter-final in a fortnight. Manie Libbok must be in the 23-strong match-day squad, writes Mark Keohane.
Cometh the hour and cometh the man: Pollard, who had not played a Test in 13 months and had played just 31 minutes of rugby in the past four months, started at No 10 against Tonga. He was an example of calm, power and delivery in everything he did.
He is a general and commanded the Boks play in a very challenging opening 50 minutes. He kicked four conversions from four attempts, the first two, from the corner and on his wrong side, being right footed. The ball was sailing through with 25 seconds still left on World Rugby’s conversion clock watch.
Pollard’s past few years have been ravaged by injury. It is very similar to Dan Carter’s game time and international form between the 2011 and 2015 World Cup. Most of New Zealand’s rugby public wanted Carter axed for the 2015 World Cup. It was believed younger players were fitter, better and had played more international rugby.
Lima Sopoaga was picked ahead of Carter to play the Springboks at Ellis Park. Carter was left in New Zealand to prepare for the Wallabies a week later. The All Blacks beat the Boks and Sopoaga was very good. The lay person wanted him to go to the World Cup at Carter’s expense.
Out of sight was out of mind for Carter, but the greatest No 10 in New Zealand’s history, delivered a commanding performance against Australia and the All Blacks coaching staff trusted instinct, class, pedigree and the experience of Carter having played in three World Cups.
The rest is history. Carter was sublime in the 20-18 semi-final win against the Springboks and even better in the title-winning final against Australia.
Pollard brings a similar presence to the Boks that Carter did for the All Blacks.
This is not about Pollard versus Libbok but about what dynamic is best suited to a winning play-off.
I believe both players, so different in every aspect of flyhalf play, can make a contribution to a winning result over 80 minutes.
I also believe Pollard starting is a stronger influence than Pollard playing the final 20 or 30. Equally, Libbok will bring a creative and attacking ‘ball in hand’ presence that Pollard can’t match. But this Libbok blitz would have more potency running against some fatigued minds and tired legs.
Libbok, introduced to change a game or close out a game, gives me more comfort than the pressure of him starting a play-off game and being judged by his first attempt at posts.
Pollard’s kicking success, from the first attempt against Tonga, provided such certainty and Libbok added to that in slotting three from three.
Libbok’s natural game means more attacking metres, but more attacking metres doesn’t automatically translate into victory. Pollard’s game is more conservative, forces the Boks to go to their forward set piece early and then build scoreboard pressure through penalties and the successful conversion of these opportunities.
Libbok’s natural game has no equal at No 10 in South Africa. Pollard’s all-round Test game and his experience has no equal within the Boks World Cup squad.
Play them both and get 50 starting minutes out of Pollard and 30 glorious minutes from Libbok.
How SA Rugby Magazine called Pollard & Libbok two months before the World Cup