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It's night and day between Handre Pollard and the Lions flyhalves

By Ben Smith

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There shouldn’t be much stress for returning Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard about his job ahead of his return from injury for the reigning World Cup holders.

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When you have the easiest job of any 10 in world rugby, what is there to worry about?

Sit behind a big pack, watch them carry all day, enjoy the theatre while your scrumhalf is responsible for controlling nearly all aspects of the game.

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This should make Pollard’s return as seamless and smooth as humanly possible against Georgia despite playing just four games recently for Montpellier.

Bark some orders at your forwards, hoist a few bombs and kick a few penalties. Watch your team smother the opposition on defence.

The only thing that he needs to do is ensure he is on-song from the tee and limit his mistakes. Just don’t mess up on the rare occasion the ball comes your way and kick the goals.

The contrast with the Lions’ stable of flyhalves is night and day.

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Whoever eventually starts at 10 for the tourists, Dan Biggar, Owen Farrell or Finn Russell, will be central to any Lions’ game plan with the series essentially resting on their shoulders.

They will be responsible for pulling off the strike plays, embedded with different roles in the array of plays that ask the Lions’ backs to find answers to the Boks defence.

On some they will be distributors tasked with holding up the defence just enough, on others they will be the primary playmaker responsible for committing the defence and picking the right option.

They will handle the ball on most phases, guide runners into gaps, link with their outsides, control the side’s phase play, choose when to play for territory in midfield zones and dictate terms from the backfield.

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They will digest, and try and master over the next few weeks, a grand plan of schemes of which the success heavily depends on them.

Sure, there are plays that call on Pollard to make a pass every now and again, on the rare occasion the call isn’t for Damian de Allende to truck up another carry from Faf de Klerk.

The flyhalf is quintessential to the European game as much as it is for New Zealand. The flyhalf is not a backseat passenger who turns up when the captain calls for a shot at goal. That is the South African way.

It is a fundamental difference in philosophies on how to play the game, on who is responsible for the winning of the game and in what manner. And for South Africa, the flyhalf is there to kick goals and stay out of the way.

Need proof?

Not one South African 10 has ever been nominated, let alone won, the World Rugby Player of the Year award in the 20 years it has been around.

The list of flyhalf nominees is as follows: Jonny Wilkinson (twice), Dan Carter (four times), Juan Martin Hernandez (once), Owen Farrell (three times), Jonathan Sexton (twice), Frederic Michelak (once) and Beauden Barrett (three times).

There’s no mention of Butch James, Ruan Pienaar, Morne Steyn, or Pollard. The Springboks who are nominated are usually an exemplary forward, an outstanding outside back or their main game driver – the scrumhalf.

This is not to say they aren’t capable players. Pollard himself was a genuine all-round prospect at under-20 level with vast talents coming through the system.

However, there are only a handful of games in his Springbok career so far that warrant even talking about – New Zealand in Johannesburg in 2014, Scotland at Murrayfield in 2018 and perhaps Argentina in Salta in 2019.

The South African flyhalves simply do not have the body of work to earn such recognition. They aren’t entrusted to play a varied and skilled game at the international level that calls upon, and tests, their ability in multiple facets.

Those wanting Pollard recognised as one of the world’s best need to first ask the Springbok coaches to change the entire game plan so he can prove it.

Although in doing so you may witness a return to the 2016-17 Springboks who tried to adopt an expansive game and became a lost soul, unsure of their identity, and subsequently plummeted down the World Rankings.

The Springboks can win this Lions series with Morne Steyn at 10. On form, you would pick him. He’s healthy, in vintage touch and has all the experience in the world. He’s a better goal kicker too.

Steyn or Pollard, take your pick. All that matters is that they kick goals. And if Pollard can do that, he will play. He doesn’t need to do anything else.

The difference for the Lions pivots is they shoulder a much heavier burden. And should they win, they will likely deserve an unequal share of the plaudits. Perhaps build the case for a World Player of the Year nomination too.

 

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It's night and day between Handre Pollard and the Lions flyhalves

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