Rugby: Why Springboks have put Handre Pollard in firing line against All Blacks

Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus says the All Blacks‘ finesse and ability to finish opportunities is even more of a threat than their physicality but the selection of No10 Handre Pollard suggests he is preparing for both.

There is little doubt that the All Blacks are the best in the world at creating something from nothing and then taking full advantage, but it‘s true too that they can be direct, and Pollard and the rest of his teammates will have to make a lot of tackles at Westpac Stadium on Saturday.

Pollard, a solid defender, has replaced the more flighty Elton Jantjies at first-five for that reason. All Blacks loose forwards Sam Cane, Kieran Read and Liam Squire are all likely to charge down the inside channel close to the ruck and Pollard probably has more ability to stop them than his smaller teammate and rival.

He also has the ability to provide the aerial bombardment that All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is expecting to come the way of his back three Rieko Ioane, Jordie Barrett and Ben Smith.

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“Elton is a guy with wonderful vision, he can dictate the game really well, but I think Handre brings that physicality, that size, that direct play that we need against the All Blacks,” Erasmus said.

“We‘re trying to mix and match a little bit to see who we can take to the World Cup and who can handle the pressure in different situations. It‘s not just Elton and Handre… after six matches I‘m finding out about players in different situations. I think this team is the closest to the strongest 23 that we‘ve put out for the seven tests we‘ve played.”

Like the rest of the world, Erasmus can only admire the way the All Blacks use the ball despite often being behind in terms of territory and possession.

“I don‘t think it will be physicality in this game [that decides it]… the way the All Blacks are playing, there is so much finesse in their game, they are so good at taking small opportunities.

“We currently are creating opportunities and just throwing them out the window every single time. I think obviously both teams will have to compete physically because that‘s New Zealand and South African rugby, but, I don‘t know – we have to capitalise on opportunities like New Zealand do if we are to be successful in this game.”

After saying he was in danger of getting the sack should his side, who haven‘t won in New Zealand since 2009, lose on Saturday, Erasmus, in the first year of a six year contract, has received backing from his employers.

He wryly noted that such support wasn‘t always good news for a coach in the spotlight, but Erasmus is building for the future and his bosses appear to appreciate that. A victory at Westpac Stadium, while unlikely given the respective form of the two teams, would be a massive boost for everyone involved in the game in South Africa.

“Everyone knows if you beat New Zealand in New Zealand you‘re back to where you want to be and your planning is on track.

“That‘s how we see it – it doesn‘t make it any easier – but if you beat New Zealand in New Zealand life is good.”