This is not the match where his talent was most needed. But even if he had to make his call during the World Cup at his feet, Handre Pollard at least had the professional conscience to do things right. 4/4 in his attempts in front of goal, four conversions for eight points and a clean sheet in South Africa's 49-18 win over Tonga on Sunday night in Marseille. A success with bonus for almost, barring an unlikely scenario in the confrontation between Ireland and Scotland on Saturday, to send the Springboks to the quarter-finals. And allow the opener to review a rugby field.
Because the 29-year-old player injured calf in early May with his club Leicester, has played only half an hour in an FA Cup match in mid-September. But after hooker Malcolm Marx withdrew, South African coach Jacques Nienaber decided to summon the number ten author of 22 points in the World Cup final four years ago. As if we decided to replace a sauerkraut with a tiramisu in a menu because the guests are terribly short of sugar.
In France, its partners need a reliable foot. Because before the match against the Tongans, South Africa had a success rate against the poles of only 47.8%, including this infamous 1/5 against Ireland on September 23 at the Stade de France. So even completely short of pace, Pollard had to bring his foot in place of the starter opener since the beginning of the World Cup, Manie Libbok.
"He's going to keep improving"
What the former Montpellier player has done with his four conversions, including three in the corner. But by being neutral, not to say without any relief, in the game: three meters traveled ball in hand and seven tackles in 51 minutes before spinning to catch his breath on the bench.
"The important thing is that he was able to play," says his coach. He had played only 30 minutes, in a competition a little below the international level. There he made 50 against a good Tonga team. I think he will continue to improve. He had a solid game. He was good on the runs with the ball, defensively he was there too. At the foot, he was good. On the fundamentals, he really ticked all the boxes. »
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"I felt good, it was nice, even if it was a very physical match," said Handre Pollard. Doing 100% is always nice. Manie was good at that when he came in too. »
Because Libok, quite clumsy in this exercise since the beginning of the competition, transcended with a 3/3 after entering the game, including two first attempts off-center. "It's something I've been working all week," he admits. I'm glad it went well today (Sunday). »
What's next? Barring an unlikely score in the match between Ireland and Scotland on 7 October, South Africa have qualified for the quarter-finals, where they will likely face France on 15 October. That's two more weeks to let Pollard, who admits he did "just kick the first week" with the Springboks, continue to recover. In the company of a Libok stung by this new competition. And that's frankly not good news for the Blues.