OPINION: Consistency key for Pollard in important World Cup year
The common denominator of all the teams that have won the Rugby World Cup in the past has been the consistent performances of their flyhalves in the lead-up to and during the tournament.
Stephen Larkam in 1999, Jonny Wilkinson in 2003, Butch James - who was extremely underrated for the Springboks - in 2007 and a late inclusion in 2011 for Stephen Donald who kicked the winning penalty for the All Blacks that removed the monkey off their backs after decades of failure on the world stage.
Bulls pivot Handre Pollard has the ability to follow in the footsteps of all these World Cup-winning generals later this year in Japan, but he will need to put in consistent performances if the Springboks - who will begin their campaign at the tournament against the defending champions New Zealand - are going to stand a chance of adding a third World Cup title to their trophy cabinet.
The 24-year-old Pollard has begun the current Super Rugby season on a very impressive note even though it is still in its infancy. In three rounds so far, he has shown immense maturity and variety in his game and is beginning to look like the complete package that everybody predicted when he helped the Baby Boks win the Junior World Championships as a schoolboy in 2012.
In the two South African derbies against the Stormers and the Lions so far this season, Pollard has outclassed his competitors for the Bok number 10 jersey, Damien Willemse and Elton Jantjies. Against the Stormers he racked up 20 points that included a try, two conversions and four penalty goals, but the most impressive aspect about that performance was his tactical kicking out of hand and his brilliant control of the game.
A man of the match performance against the Lions helped break the home side’s four-season dominance against fellow South African teams at home. Pollard again contributed 20 points with the boot.
Pollard also looks as if he has overcome his injury-plagued spell that kept him out of action for extended periods in the recent past and with a goal-kicking success rate of 86% (second only to the Sharks’ Robert du Preez on 90%), he is the front runner for the Springbok flyhalf berth at the World Cup, with Jantjies a more than capable understudy.
Consistency will be key for him and if he can bottle up this current form and unleash it in Japan, I have no doubt that South Africa will be right up there with the likes of the All Blacks, England and Ireland as the title contenders.
Philasande Sixaba is a sports reporter at Eyewitness News.