South Africa will field fledgling international flyhalf Handré Pollard against New Zealand in the only change to their line-up for Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash.
Pollard, with just three Tests under his belt, has been thrust into the crucial game-maker role ahead of veteran Morné Steyn, who was omitted from the squad. Coach Heyneke Meyer said the move would surprise some Springbok fans but that he wanted to blood Pollard in a high-pressure game ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup, predicting that the 20-year-old could be “a big force” at the tournament.
He said Pollard’s selection was unconventional and might wrong-foot the All Blacks, a team he described as the pacesetters of world rugby. “It is a big call but if we don’t do it now, we’re never going to know what he can do and I think this is the right game to do it,” Meyer told reporters. “He’s a different type of player and you need something different if you’re going to beat New Zealand. I don’t think you’re going to beat the All Blacks if you just do the conventional.”
Meyer praised Steyn (30), who has scored more points (31) than any other South African against the All Blacks, as “a great kicking flyhalf”. But he said Pollard’s inclusion was about adding depth to the squad. Steyn’s omission was the only change in the side that was beaten narrowly 24-23 by Australia last week. “It’s also good for continuity to have an almost unchanged side. We know where we made mistakes last weekend and the players now have an opportunity to rectify those against the toughest opponent in world rugby,” Meyer said.
‘I’m here to coach’
The coach sidestepped questions about a South African Rugby Union plan to increase the number of non-white players in the Springbok team so that they comprise 50% of the team by the 2019 season. “I’m just here to coach. I’m just here to serve my country and do the best for the Springboks,” he said, adding “I’ve got enough worries of my own” trying to defeat the All Blacks on Saturday.
Meyer was more verbose in his praise of Springbok captain Jean de Villiers, who will on Saturday become the fifth South African to play 100 Tests. “When the big names in South African rugby are mentioned, Jean will forever be among them,” Meyer said.
“Jean is not only an extremely good rugby player, but he’s also one of the greatest captains I’ve ever worked with. Jean is also a true ambassador for South Africa. To see how he is respected all over the world is truly humbling and our fellow countrymen can be proud of him.”
Two of South Africa’s other centurions, Victor Matfield (114 Tests) and Bryan Habana, who reached the 100 Tests milestone last weekend against Australia in Perth, will be playing on Saturday. The other two Springboks to play 100 Tests are John Smit (111) and Percy Montgomery (102).
South Africa and New Zealand have played each other 87 times since 1921, with the Springboks winning 34, losing 50 and drawing three games.
South Africa (15-1): Willie le Roux; Cornal Hendricks, Jan Serfontein, Jean de Villiers (C), Bryan Habana; Handré Pollard, Ruan Pienaar; Duane Vermeulen, Marcell Coetzee, Francois Louw; Victor Matfield, Eben Etzebeth; Jannie du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: Bismarck du Plessis, Trevor Nyakane, Marcel van der Merwe, Lood de Jager, Warren Whiteley, Francois Hougaard, Pat Lambie, Damian de Allende – AFP