JOHANNESBURG — It’s hard to believe that Handré Pollard is only 24 years old, especially when he addresses the media with such ease and conviction.
But we really shouldn’t be surprised by his maturity, as he made his Springboks debut as a wet-behind-the-ears 20-year-old, contributing 13 points in a victory over Scotland.
But over the past four years he has tallied only 26 caps for his country, as various injuries have robbed him of quite a few more matches in the green and gold.
Because of his ridiculous talents, his stop-start career has been frustrating to witness, because every time he gets back into the Springboks’ set-up it seems like he needs to ease his way back before gaining the confidence to go out and win games.
But there is a different feeling about Pollard going into this massive Test series against England. The Bulls No. 10 has been injury free for almost a year, and after making his comeback in the Boks set-up in the 2017 Rugby Championship, he’s has also had a top Super Rugby campaign with the Bulls thus far.
There is a feeling that Pollard can finally live up to his immense potential and be the general in the No. 10 jersey to take the Springboks to a new level. But with that comes a lot of pressure, because the expectation for him to deliver is high.
However, the hype doesn’t seem to bother Pollard, who led the Junior Springboks to glory in 2012 while still on the school benches of Paarl Gym. But he knows there is a lot more responsibility on his shoulders to take charge, and, at 24, be one of the leaders in the team.
“I feel I’m in a good space. To be honest, I’m just happy to be injury free and 100 percent. It’s not been that way for a couple of years now. I’m glad to be playing week in and week out and I’m feeling confident,” Pollard told the media at the Springbok team announcement for Saturday’s first Test at Ellis Park.
“As a 10 there is always pressure on you to lead the team and give them direction. But we have a great bunch of leaders in the team, natural leaders, such as Siya [Kolisi] our captain, Duane [Vermeulen], Willie [le Roux] and Faf [de Klerk]. They bring a lot of experience.
“For me it’s not about the pressure, but having that responsibility of leading the younger guys in the right direction. It’s nothing new, but I actually enjoy it.”
The younger guys in the backline include debutant wings Aphiwe Dyantyi and S’busiso Nkosi, while outside centre Lukhanyo Am will make his first start for the Boks after coming off the bench in his only Test against Wales in November.
Pollard, though, is excited about what those players can bring to the party following superb displays in Super Rugby, while Nkosi and Am have been consistent performers for the Sharks over the last two years.
“Guys like S’bu and Ampie are in unbelievable form — unbelievable talent,” Pollard said. “It took us a couple of days to get to know each other, but I feel we are in a really good space.
“I have been really impressed with them over the last couple of weeks; the way they have handled themselves, their work ethic and what they bring to the team.
“We all know about the talent and the stepping, but they have quite a good knowledge of the game as well. I’m actually very confident having them at the back, as well as Willie with his experience. I have no doubt they will do a great job.”
Pollard will form a halfback combination with former Lions scrumhalf Faf de Klerk. It will be the first time that the two play together, and the Bulls flyhalf says he actually had to adjust to the speed of the blonde scrumhalf’s service.
But while at the Sale Sharks, De Klerk has also developed a great left boot, which will help to take some of the pressure off Pollard.
“I haven’t played with him before. He clears the ball quickly and is a very dangerous guy around the ruck. You always have to watch him!” Pollard said.
“What he has learned in England is the kicking part of the game and I think he has matured a lot in that sense. He plays with a composed mindset and I must say I’m really impressed with him.”
Pollard’s mindset also looks solid going into the game, and South Africans might actually see the best of the flyhalf over a prolonged period of time.