| Pollard must steer Boks into new era

Cape Town – One thing that Rassie Erasmus will have had confirmed very quickly this week is that South African rugby fans are many things, but patient is not one of them. 

We expect results … every time. 

The Boks were almost impossible to watch as they fell to a 22-20 loss in Washington against Wales this past Saturday. The public reaction to the performance was noticeably harsh, but that was understandable given what was dished up on the day. 

With the Boks now back on home soil and preparing for a massive three-Test series against England, Erasmus will know more than anyone that he needs to get off to a winning start at Ellis Park on Saturday. 

This is, after all, a new Springbok era.

There is a new coach, an historic new captain in Siya Kolisi as well as several new faces. 

Saturday will also represent a new beginning for Handre Pollard

The 24-year-old has 26 Test caps to his name, but he is now in a position where can take command of the No 10 jersey for the first time since the 2015 World Cup. 

Since then, Pollard has had a disastrous run of fitness problems with shoulder, knee and ankle injuries raising serious doubt over whether he would ever be able to reach his full potential in international rugby. 

During that time, Elton Jantjies was given the flyhalf duties throughout most of the Allister Coetzee era, but for two years he could not solidify his place. 

Consistency was Jantjies’ biggest problem, and while his natural ability with ball-in-hand could never be questioned – his distribution is world class – it was in executing the basics where Jantjies was found wanting. 

His kicking out of hand was a little too erratic, his defence was not quite as strong as Coetzee would have liked and, perhaps most importantly, he was not given the freedom to express himself the way he does at the Lions. 

It all contributed to a rather iffy two years for Jantjies in national colours, but he still started 2018 as the Springbok No 10. 

Jantjies has been largely impressive in Super Rugby once again this year, but it is safe to say that Pollard has eclipsed him as South Africa’s form flyhalf in the competition. 

It always looked like Erasmus was leaning towards Pollard as his first-choice, and that much was confirmed when he sent Jantjies to the USA to play against Wales while Pollard stayed behind to focus on England.

Jantjies did himself no favours against Wales with another average kicking display counting against him. 

Now, it is Pollard’s time.

He will be given the flyhalf responsibilities against England on Saturday and if Erasmus has his way, he will back the Bulls man throughout the year and up until the World Cup. 

Pollard has, for many years, been tipped to be the darling of South African rugby and he has also been labelled a future captain. 

Following a disastrous two years under Coetzee and another worrying performance against Wales, the Boks now need Pollard to stand up and be the player he was always supposed to be. 

The Boks have already wasted half of a World Cup cycle, and they cannot afford to waste any more. 

Consistency in key positions between now and Japan is key, and hopefully Pollard can put in the types of performances that make the flyhalf decision an easy one for Erasmus. 

Pollard obviously can’t resurrect the Boks by himself. He needs his forwards to provide him front foot ball. 

But if he can stay fit while kicking the Boks into good positions on both the scoreboard and the field, while making his hits and sparking attacks when they are on, then South Africa will already have one key weapon that was missing throughout most of the two years under Coetzee.

Jantjies is class; of that there is no doubt. But, 24 Tests into his Bok career, he still hasn’t convinced those at the top that he should be entrusted with the No 10 jersey at the World Cup. 

Right now, Pollard is the Boks’ best bet.  

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