International Rugby, Opinions, Springboks

Centre shift for Pollard, Willemse to ten?

While Handre Pollard is currently the first choice flyhalf in the country, he is certainly not settled. Evidently neither is the rest of the Springbok’s backline.

Outside of the back three who have performed well as a unit from the beginning of the June test series against England, the center combination and fly half position remains in question.

June incumbent Damian De Allende is currently out with injury, but when fit did not offer much versatility. While typically strong with ball in hand and on direct defence, the Stormers centre was rather one dimensional in a new Springbok set up supposedly aiming for greater attacking understanding and execution.

Sharks counterpart Andre Etserhuizen, in De Allende’s absence, has proven to offer much of the same, being a solid ball runner and tackler in the number twelve channel, but rarely finding his outside backs and struggling in the wider channels both defensively and on attack.

While a decision has not been made on who will occupy the number 13 jersey, between Jesse Kriel, Lukhanyo Am and Lionel Mapoe, outside center is not the area of concern. Currently the Springboks have in-form depth in that position.

The problem lies in the 10,12 axis. Handre Pollard has been solid, without being spectacular. His goal kicking however has been glaringly below par. Jantjies, while kicking with consistency has been found wanting in all other facets when putting on the number 10 Jersey for the Boks.

Could the answer to both the flyhalf and center problem be a positional shift forHandre Pollard?

Moving into the number 12 position, where he previously played alongside Robert Du Preez at u20 level, would add an attacking link to the outside backs that the backline has been missing.

Pollard’s performances for the Boks so far this year have mimicked more that of a skillful inside center than a flyhalf; strong and direct in contact, straightening and breaking the gainline. Having his relative experience at center, Damian Willemse could move into the number 10 position, alleviating goal kicking pressure and adding a certain spark.

The Bok backline would then have two players inside who attack the gainline strongly but are skillful and considered in their offensive approach. Let us not forget that Willie le Roux adds another dimension when coming in to the pivot position on certain moves. Willemse’s versatility could then see the two of them interchanging throughout the match, much like how the All Blacks use Beauden Barrett.

The Springboks have the player quality and the depth, but they don’t have the right mix. If they want to be a threat in the wider channels, they need to open up their fylhaf to centre style of play. If they are going to persist with less expansive and more direct style of backline play, with Pollard at the helm, his goalkicking needs to be seriously addressed and the inside centre berth needs to be filled with a recall for either Jan Serfontein or Francois Steyn.

Also read: Biting the Bullet – Keo and Dalton chat Mendoza aberration 

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