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Pollard returns for Highlanders clash

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Handre Pollard makes shock return to Bulls side to face Highlanders

Handre Pollard has made a shock return to the Bulls side to face the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Friday.

The Springboks first-five was originally sent back to South Africa, alongside international and Super Rugby teammate Duane Vermuelen, to nurse a calf injury following his side’s 22-10 loss to the Brumbies in Canberra two weeks ago, which meant he missed his side’s 22-all draw with the Blues in Auckland last week.

However, with a play-offs spot on the line in this week’s clash, head coach Pote Human has had a change of heart, and has re-called his captain back into the starting side.

The Highlanders would have been hopeful of facing a depleted Bulls outfit that would have been missing Pollard, Vermuelen and electric winger Rosko Specman, who came off injured against the Blues.

The latter two remain absent from the side, but Aaron Mauger’s men will now have to contend with 39-test Pollard, who will steer the ship in place of last week’s incumbent Mannie Libbok.

Whether Pollard has fully recovered from his calf injury remains unclear, but what is certain is that the 25-year-old’s re-call into the squad indicates the pressure the Pretoria club is facing with getting back into the Super Rugby post-season for the first time since 2013.

Currently ranked seventh overall and third on the South African conference with 34 points, a win in Dunedin will put them in good stead for qualification into the quarter-finals ahead of their final regular season fixture against the Lions next week.

Pollard is one of five changes in the Bulls’ starting lineup from last week’s stalemate at Eden Park.

Injury has cut Paul Schoeman’s tour of Australasia short, meaning Marco van Staden will move to No. 8, freeing up the No. 6 jersey for Ruan Steenkamp, whose place on the bench is filled by Johan Grobbelaar.

The elevation of Embrose Papier from the reserves into the starting side for Ivan van Zyl at halfback rounds out a completely new halves pairing from last week, while Johnny Kotze shifts from the midfield onto the wing in place of the injured Specman, with Dylan Sage filling the void at centre.

At fullback, five-test Springbok Warrick Gelant is replaced by Namibian international Divan Russouw, whose spot on the bench is covered by JT Jackson.

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Handre Pollard makes shock return to Bulls side to face Highlanders