Starting Handre Pollard over Manie Libbok a ‘no-brainer’ for the Springboks

Colin Newboult
Handre Pollard kicking at goal for Springboks against Tonga in the Rugby World Cup.

Handre Pollard kicking at goal for Springboks against Tonga in the Rugby World Cup.

Former South Africa international Schalk Brits has predicted that Handre Pollard will be the country’s first-choice fly-half going forward.

Manie Libbok was the only out-and-out pivot selected in the initial 33-man squad, with Pollard missing out due to injury.

Libbok started the key games against Scotland and Ireland, and showed touches of class in those encounters, but his goal-kicking was an issue.

It potentially cost them the win in the match with Andy Farrell’s men as they went down 13–8 to the world number one side.

Worry heading into the knockouts

In the big knockout encounters, that could be a problem, which is why Pollard has entered the conversation after being called up as an injury replacement for Malcolm Marx.

He started against Tonga, and his place-kicking was a standout as the Boks defeated the Pacific Islanders 49-18 to put them on the brink of quart-final qualification.

Providing there is no freak result in the Ireland v Scotland match this weekend, Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber will have a big decision to make ahead of their last-eight contest.

“I’ll make a prediction: they will start with Pollard, they’ll go with a six-two split, and they will put Manie on the bench,” Brits told the Official Rugby World Cup 2023 podcast.

“The backline moves better with Libook there; he brings some x-factor to that team. Maybe the six-two split is a better combination for us.”

Brits was joined on the podcast by former Scotland number eight Johnnie Beattie, who believes that all countries need a top-class goal-kicker if they want to win the World Cup.

“Statistically, Libbok is under 80 per cent [for goal kicking], so if you want your sure thing, you’ve got Pollard back from injury, you go with Pollard. It’s a no-brainer.

“That’s [Libbok’s no-look cross-field kick] not going to win you World Cups, is it? Libbok has been phenomenal in the URC with his franchise in South Africa but, if you’re ticking under 80 per cent on your top-level goal-kicker, you’re leaving 11 points out there against Ireland.

“You take those points, you win the game. I fully expect Pollard to be their starter.”

“Cruellest pool”

Beattie also looked at Scotland’s huge clash against Ireland and bemoaned what has been the “cruellest pool”.

“You had number one, three and five, and you also had to play Romania and Tonga; everyone knows looking for bonus points, and so it is a shoot-out between the top three teams. Scotland have already lost [against South Africa],” he added.

“You have to knock over one of the big two teams, and that is the opportunity they have in Paris. It’s not going to be easy, they will prep away quietly, and they will try and throw some punches, shoot some shots.”

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