Mind Games: Meyer's flyhalf poser

2014-09-30 10:00

There’s an element of “waiting for Fourie du Preez” in the Springbok set-up but, more pertinently, one could ask: could Handré Pollard be “the one”?

Coach Heyneke Meyer is dedicated to the belief that Du Preez is crucial to the way he wants the Boks to play; but what if the scrum half doesn’t make it back? What if he is injured again? What if he can’t make as impressive a return from his Japanese commitments as he did last time?

Certainly, even though Meyer’s faith in Du Preez is unwavering, there must be a little worry in his mind that the man who orchestrated the success of his Bulls will not play Super Rugby next year and might have to go into the World Cup without seeing any top-flight action – especially if the truncated Rugby Championship is scheduled for after the Rugby World Cup rather than before it.

That is why the focus should perhaps switch to Pollard and one of the oldest fundamentals in rugby – that the linchpin in any successful team is the flyhalf.

Throughout Springbok history, success has coincided with the presence of a world-class player in the No 10 jersey – a pivot who was the nerve centre of the team, directing operations, laying down tactics and most often kicking goals.

The list of Bennie Osler, Hansie Brewis, Piet Visagie, Gerald Bosch, Naas Botha and Henry Honiball correlates with victorious times.

Ironically, both our World Cups were won without there being a clear No 10 going into the tournament, but both Kitch Christie and Jake White pondered what they needed and picked right with Joel Stransky and Butch James in 1995 and 2007, respectively.

Often it came down to goalkicking, as Morné Steyn did for Peter de Villiers and also for Meyer, but the man who made the team tick was the flyhalf.

This is also true for other nations who have won the World Cup. There was Grant Fox for New Zealand in 1987; Michael Lynagh and Stephen Larkham for Australia in 1991 and 1999, respectively; Jonny Wilkinson for England in 2003; and don’t discount the role Dan Carter played when the All Blacks won in 2011, even though cruel fate would deprive him of the crowning glory and hand the honour of kicking the winning penalty to Stephen Donald – a brief moment of fame if ever there was one.

The great Hugo Porta single-handedly transformed Argentina’s competitive status and, nearer home, the selection of Errol Tobias unleashed an uproar, not only because he was the first black Springbok but because of the position in which he played.

It was felt that Tobias, a beautifully balanced and powerful runner who loved attacking the gain line, was too risky to be entrusted with the vital role of flyhalf.

Yet he brought something new to the Boks and it is not coincidental that Danie Gerber scored some of his best tries with Tobias at pivot.

So, with Morné Steyn seemingly having been undone by a single misjudged kick into touch, the time might have arrived to commit to Pollard, still just 20, as the Boks’ key playmaker.

He certainly has all the attributes – especially a cool head – and has gathered the necessary credentials in age-group rugby to indicate that he has what it takes, but for a key indeterminate.

Will the coach make him a pivot in his own method or will he allow him to bring to bear his natural instincts?

Perhaps Meyer needs to borrow something else from the lore of Blue Bulls rugby – the legendary Brigadier Buurman van Zyl picking a 19-year-old Botha straight out of the Tukkies team and telling him: “I want you to be my general.”

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