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Thursday, December 8, 2022

Handre Pollard: I should be ‘good to go’ for Springbok end-of-year tour

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Cape Town – Jacques Nienaber said recently that he was “80%” certain that Handre Pollard would miss the end-of-year tour to Europe, but the Springbok flyhalf now feels that he is likely to be fit to play.

Pollard picked up a knee injury in the 25-17 loss to the Wallabies in Adelaide during the Rugby Championship, along with centre Lukhanyo Am, who has also been sidelined since.

But the 28-year-old pivot joined up with his new English club Leicester Tigers afterwards, and the prognosis has improved significantly following a second opinion in the UK.

In an interview with the Leicester Mercury newspaper this week, Pollard believes that he will be back on the pitch soon after being a travelling reserve for Leicester’s win over Northampton Saints at the weekend.

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“The body is good,” Pollard said. “I am really coming along nicely. (I’m) Just trying to get as much done as possible. I’ve still got a couple of boxes to tick, from the initial diagnosis we had in Australia. I’ve come back to London and got a different one, which was a lot more positive.

“I’m working hard, it’s really feeling good, so we will see how we go on from here.

“This is completely different (to the ACL tear he sustained while at Montpellier). It’s a little bit of a tear in the meniscus. It’s a lot better than we originally thought, and it’s going really well.

“We’re still taking it day by day, but I am very excited and optimistic.

“I should be good to go for the end-of-year series.”

Leicester’s next two matches are on Saturday away to Saracens, and then Sale Sharks next weekend.

A fit Pollard, who has 65 Test caps, would solve an ever-deepening flyhalf crisis for the Boks, which saw veteran utility back Frans Steyn filling in at No 10 in last week’s 38-21 victory over Argentina in Durban.

The injured Pollard and Damian Willemse, as well as Elton Jantjies (personal reasons), were all unavailable for the Kings Park encounter, while Nienaber was reluctant to call up an uncapped player for one match.

The Bok coach is also waiting to see if Bulls pivot Johan Goosen gets enough game-time in the United Rugby Championship following an 11-month lay-off with a knee injury to be ready for the November tour, where the world champions will face Ireland, France, Italy and England – while there will be midweek games against Munster and Bristol too.

Having Aled Walters, the former Bok head of athletic performance who was part of the Cup-winning management team, working with him at Leicester has also helped Pollard at his new club.

“He is unbelievable, world, world-class and he is a massive reason I decided to come here. There’s no hiding from it. What he did for us in those two years with the Springboks, we were by far in the best shape of our lives,” the former Bulls No 10 said about the Welshman.

“With them and me personally, the way he does stuff, it’s something me and my body reacts really well to.

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“Apart from being a brilliant coach at what he does, he’s an unbelievable person and he’s great to have in a squad. The singing is not great, but it’s great to have a guy like that in the group.”

His wife Marise has also made life easier for Pollard in his new surroundings.

“I didn’t expect to be here so soon. I got to settle in under calmer circumstances. My missus has been here for a few months now … she’s sorted out the house. I missed all the heavy lifting and the building of the cupboards. That’s been great. I am staying in Market Harborough,” he said, while admitting to having been “smashing the curries” in town.

“It’s a big learning from moving to France a few years ago. We sorted the house before we came over, which made the transition so much easier.

“I’ve always wanted to come to England. I wanted to come here three years ago, but there wasn’t really the opportunity so I had to go elsewhere. When the opportunity came up with Fordy (George Ford) going on, it was a no-brainer for me.

“My wife and I always wanted to come to England. We never had the opportunity. Getting an opportunity at a club like this, it’s something you can’t pass on.

“I knew what Steve (Borthwick, Leicester coach) and the boys were doing, it’s clearly going in the right direction. Speaking to Aled – who has been with them throughout the whole process, a guy that I rate very highly and really respect – you could see they were on track to do something special.

“Didn’t quite expect it to happen that quickly like last season already but it’s brilliant. Being at a club like this, personally I’ve still got a lot of ambitions to really win some stuff and improve a lot as a player.”

@ashfakmohamed

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