Johannesburg - The Springboks’ upset win over the peerless All Blacks in Wellington yesterday did a little more than just infuse the visitors – and the rest of the world – with the belief that the Brazil of rugby can be beaten, it went a long way towards settling a debate that has vexed rugby-minded South Africans.
Who to play at flyhalf between Elton Jantjies and Handré Pollard is an argument that has polarised South Africans for a while now, our preferences too often informed by the lowest common denominator of whether we’re black or white as opposed to for rugby reasons.
With Pollard having cracked Bok coach Rassie Erasmus’ nod for the big daddy game against the world champions yesterday, after Jantjies had been given his chance to peddle his wares in the shocker against Australia the week before, Damian de Allende’s untimely injury early in the second half threw the two together for the remainder of the game.
No disrespect to the indefatigable De Allende, who was as massive as anyone in an equally massive result, but that was the best possible thing to happen for the Boks not only yesterday, but also in terms of their planning looking at next year’s World Cup in Japan.
The refrain by both Jantjies and Pollard’s detractors is that each doesn’t seem to possess enough in his skills locker to be the complete version of the flyhalf South Africa needs, and being pressed into service together – the Bulls man at inside centre and the Lions man at flyhalf – dropped liberal hints that they, to quote Jerry Maguire, complete each other.
Pollard brings mental fortitude (think of his clearances under pressure), structure and physicality to the plot, while Jantjies comes armed with a wonderful passing range (that gorgeous, needle-threading pass to Frans Malherbe was an example), an unpredictable streak and the ability to see the unseen in claustrophobic spaces.
Also, two flyhalves on the park means more thinking heads, while the fact that one is right-footed (Pollard) and the other a southpaw (Jantjies) means the Boks would also have more kicking options and less struggles with their exit strategies.
Pollard was the defensive muscle in that 10 and 12 channel, and the go-to man for finding touch with the Boks creaking under the strain of the All Blacks’ sustained pressure, while Jantjies provided the trademark floated pass that led to Aphiwe Dyantyi’s second try and he also lent his shoulder to the defensive grind that was every Springbok’s lot at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
Both are known to be reluctant impact players, while Pollard doesn’t buy the often-shared view that he should move into the midfield. Looking at their body language around each other, one gets the impression they’re not convinced that running the Bok backline is big enough for the two of them.
But watching their communication as they combined to marshal the Bok troops under the mind-melting pressure of the last quarter of yesterday’s game, both would have to admit they work better together than on their own.
The really good thing was that this happened under circumstances in which a massive game was on the line and, alongside each other, they combined to surmount whatever hurdles – mental or skills-wise – they would have struggled to conquer on their own.
What playing Jantjies and Pollard together would afford the Boks is the luxury of playing a balanced game from the start, where there is no need to block the shine off the new ball before bringing the noise towards the end, as it were.
As moves go, it would be a spectacularly unfair one for De Allende, who put in a mountain of unseen work before being withdrawn with what appeared to be a shoulder complaint, and appears to be the country’s best bet at inside centre in the absence of the convalescing Jan Serfontein.
But it is also a move that would allow Erasmus room to blood young Damian Willemse from the bench with more frequency than he has been able to.
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