PE Test: Pollard primed for No 12?

Handre Pollard (Getty)
Handre Pollard (Getty)

Cape Town - After a couple of years of speculation, it suddenly looks incredibly close to fruition for the Springboks.

Partly by process of simple elimination, Handre Pollard has an excellent chance of being selected at inside centre - it would be a first-time start for him there - for the Rugby Championship Test against Australia at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday.

Infinitely more familiar to the flyhalf spot, of course, the 24-year-old would only be challenged by the more specialist Andre Esterhuizen for the midfield role in the encounter in the Friendly City.

For injury-related reasons, the Boks will be without both centres (Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am) who ran out at the outset of the famous 36-34 toppling of the All Blacks in Wellington just over a week ago.

Options by head coach Rassie Erasmus for the outside berth are more plentiful: the current squad includes several feasible candidates in the shape of Jesse Kriel (who would be returning to more familiar terrain if he is summoned inward from wing), Lionel Mapoe and rookie call-up Ruhan Nel.

Lions stalwart Mapoe has been returned to the broader mix, while the strapping former Sevens ace Nel, who is also no slouch in the wider slots, has been rewarded for his inspiring showings for Western Province in the Currie Cup thus far.

Especially considering the return to fitness of Sharks flier S’bu Nkosi, who is very likely to get the nod at No 14, Bulls utility back Kriel looks the favourite for the No 13 duty in PE.

There is even a fourth squad option - albeit a long-shot chance - for outside centre, as 20-year-old, multi-talented sensation Damian Willemse could probably perform a credible fill-in role there with his great stepping skills, general elusiveness and sound defensive qualities.

But he is likelier to be come under consideration elsewhere, like fullback, if he gets a game at all against the Wallabies.

The No 12 channel, however, has a leaner cupboard for Erasmus to choose from: really just the brawny Esterhuizen and Pollard.

Esterhuizen has earned four Bok starts thus far in his maiden Test season, although three of those have come in defeats and he is yet to set the world alight.

That only increases the likelihood of Erasmus opting to give 33-cap Pollard, who seems highly adaptable, the inside centre responsibility on Saturday, which would also facilitate a starting recall for Elton Jantjies at pivot and handily give the Boks both left- and right-footed kicking options at ten and twelve.

The pair dovetailed very promisingly when Jantjies entered the fray (at flyhalf) in the 48th minute at the Cake Tin, and Pollard swiftly looked more than comfortable both defensively and in a front-foot capacity when he switched to one berth further out.

Physically (1.88m, and close to 100kg), Pollard has all the right attributes to adjust, even if it is only temporarily, to inside centre.

The Bok team will be announced on Thursday.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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