Montpellier’s South Africa fly-half Handre Pollard said he expects Saturday’s European Champions Cup quarter-final at La Rochelle to be like “a chess game”.
Montpellier have qualified for the last eight for just the second time in their history.
They head to last season’s losing finalists who have the likes of powerful Fiji centre Levani Botia and giant Australia lock Will Skelton in their squad.
“It’s like any play-off game, it’s about which team plays the smartest, plays the chess game the right way,” Pollard, 28, told AFP on Wednesday.
“We have to stand up physically, if we don’t do that we don’t stand a chance.
“We have a couple of plans to deal with it and it could be interesting.”
Top 14 league leaders Montpellier will be without 125kg second-row Paul Willemse after the France loose-forward was sidelined for two months with a knee injury suffered last weekend.
“It’s a big blow. Paulie, we all know he’s a brilliant player, he has a huge physical presence,” Pollard said.
“As a leader he’s grown a lot since he started playing international rugby. He’s going to be missed.”
– Liebenberg reunion –
Pollard will leave the Mediterranean coast at the end of the season to join English side Leicester Tigers and reunite with South Africa’s former head of athletic performance Aled Walter.
“It’s a big change weather-wise,” Pollard joked.
“Aled Walters is the conditioning coach and was with the Springboks at the World Cup.
“I love what he does, how he structures his week, and getting his players in the best possible shape. It was a big part of it.”
After featuring in all of his country’s Tests in November, his next appearance for the 2019 Rugby World Cup winners is set to come during July’s three-match series at home against Wales.
“It will be nice to be involved in bigger games for the last couple of months of the season, it’s always great preparation for when you go into Test matches,” Pollard said.
“South Africa’s coaching staff demand unbelievable standards, and as they should, if you want to stay number one in the world because that’s what we’re trying to do, that’s what we’re working at.”
This weekend, Pollard will meet his captain from when South Africa won the Junior World Championship in 2012, La Rochelle flanker Wiaan Liebenberg.
Liebenberg spent two and a half seasons with Montpellier and will retire at the end of the season to study a Master’s degree in wealth management.
“He’s got such a great history with Montpellier as well,” Pollard said.
“It’s always a difficult one for him going back to playing against Montpellier and it’s also his final season before retirement so he’ll be out there to stay in the competition as long as possible and enjoy every moment of it.”
Fixtures (times GMT)
Munster (IRL) v Toulouse (FRA) (1400), La Rochelle (FRA) v Montpellier (FRA), Leicester Tigers (ENG) v Leinster (IRL) (both 1630)
Racing 92 (FRA) v Sale Sharks (ENG) (1400)