Parachuting Handre’ Pollard straight back into the Springbok side to face Tonga on Sunday is a big risk but one that can bear fruit in the long run ahead of the Rugby World Cup play-offs for the defending world champions.
Pollard replaces Manie Libbok at flyhalf with the latter being named on the bench for the crunch Pool B match in Marseille (9pm kick-off). The Boks must win and need a bonus point to secure their place in the quarter-finals.
Head coach Jacques Nienaber chucked Pollard straight into the deep end after he recovered from a calf injury, and with only about 40 minutes of club rugby in his legs, it’s a brave call by the Bok management to start him in a crucial game.
But he is a proven World Cup winner and the South Africans will hope he has his kicking boots on as well as he takes to the field for the first time in the Green and Gold jersey this year.
The 29-year-old’s selection is not the only risky one by the Boks, as utility forward Deon Fourie will start in the middle of the scrum with no specialist hooker as his replacement. Flanker Marco van Staden will wear the 16 jersey as backup.
Loose forward Duane Vermeulen also returns to the side but not at No 8. He will play as blindside flanker with the bullish Jasper Wiese keeping him the eighthman spot.
Whether Vermeulen will provide the same impact on the side of the scrum as he does behind remains to be seen, but he will add considerable power to the loose trio with Wiese and captain Siya Kolisi, who will run out in his 50th Test as skipper.
Since the loss of hooker Malcolm Marx, it’s been tough going for the Boks at the breakdown when they want to pounce on opposition balls after a tackle. Vermeulen will provide that option to play more toward the ball on the ground and that turnover possession could be worth gold for his side.
Looking at the pack, they should have no trouble handling the Tonga forwards and match or even top the physicality of the Pacific Islanders.
What needs answers, though, is whether the line-outs will function in the absence of hooker Bongi Mbonambi?
The centre pairing of Andre Esterhuizen and Canan Moodie will have their hands full on defence with Tonga’s elusive backline players,but if they get an attacking chance, the duo can be devastating.
They’ll need Pollard to create that space at flyhalf so that they in turn can get the ball to the high-flying Makazole Mapimpi and scrumhalfcum-winger Grant Williams on the outside.
With Damian Willemse getting a well-deserved rest, veteran Willie le Roux has another chance to show that he should not be written off as fullback.
“This is a strong and physical team, which is exactly what is needed against a side like Tonga that plays with passion and force,” Nienaber said at the team announcement.
“Each one of us understands the importance of this match with an eye on qualifying for the quarter-final, so accurate execution, physicality and doing our basics right will be vital to get the desired result.
“They will enter with the mindset that they have nothing to lose after going down in their opening two matches of the tournament, so they won’t hold back.”