Flyhalf crisis: Boks’ worst fears realised with Pollard’s withdrawal
Coach Jacque Nienaber will now bank on just the one specialist No 10 and a couple of utility backs.
Springbok flyhalves Handre Pollard and Elton Jantjies are both ruled out of the coming game against the Wallabies, with Pollard out of the rest of the Rugby Championship. Picture: Steve Haag/Gallo Images
The Springboks’ worst fears were realised on Wednesday when flyhalf Handre Pollard was withdrawn from the squad and sent back to his club Leicester Tigers for further medical advice after suffering a knee injury in their loss against the Wallabies over the past weekend.
Pollard is not expected to play any part over the rest of the Rugby Championship, although the severity of the injury is still unclear, with the Boks next in action on their end of year tour in November.
Pollard’s absence is however a massive blow to the team as it leaves just one frontline flyhalf in the squad in Elton Jantjies, who himself is ruled out of the coming weekend’s clash against the Aussies, but is expected to be fit for their final two games against Argentina.
When the Bok squad was named at the start of the international season ahead of the incoming Welsh series, coach Jacques Nienaber was questioned on why they had only included two frontline flyhalves in the squad.
At the time Jantjies was coming off an injury and had not played in a match since January, while Pollard had also recently returned from an injury and was getting limited game time at club side Montpellier after it had been revealed he was leaving them for Leicester.
Nienaber however pointed to the amount of utility backs in the squad, who would provide cover, while backing his two flyhalves to produce the goods over the international season.
Jantjies then played in the opening match against Wales, with his rustiness clearly showing as he put in a disastrous 40 minute performance that saw him yanked at halftime, with Damian Willemse filling the void for the second half.
Pollard then took over from the second Welsh Test and has started every game since, and while producing decent performances, was unable to reach the high standards that he set earlier in his career.
Jantjies only other game time then came in a much improved cameo off the bench in the past weekend’s loss, only for him to pick up a hand injury, which has led to Willemse again having to deputise in the number 10 jersey this coming weekend.
Should he recover as expected, Jantjies will most likely be backed to play as the starting flyhalf in the final two games against Argentina, but it still exposes the lack of flyhalf depth in the Bok setup.
Willemse is perfect as a stop gap option, but has played most of his most recent rugby at inside centre for the Stormers and at fullback for the Boks and it would be unwise to jerk him around too much, especially as he has settled in at fullback so well.
Willie le Roux and Frans Steyn also provide cover in the position but are not long term answers to the problem.
Johan Goosen is viewed by the Bok management as the player likely to fill the third flyhalf role heading into next year’s World Cup, but he still has to return from injury with the Bulls in the URC and then prove his form and be picked for the Boks for the end of year tour.
With players like Lions flyhalf Jordan Hendrikse, and Stormers flyhalf Manie Libbok having shone in last season’s URC competition, it begs the question why the Bok management did not see fit to blood one of them in case of an emergency.
It is something the Bok management now has to take a good hard look at and it would be wise for them to bring in another option for the final two games, even if it is to just gain some much needed experience in the setup.
The Boks also have another hurdle to get over with arguably their best player, Lukhanyo Am, also ruled out of the team for the remainder of the Rugby Champs.