INTO FOCUS: Handre Pollard is one of eight changes made by Heyneke Meyer who is stressing tactical nous over flair
BIRMINGHAM, 23 Sept – South Africa head coach Heyneke Meyer has placed the hopes of a proud rugby nation squarely on the young shoulders of Handre Pollard.
The Springboks face Samoa in Pool B at Villa Park on Saturday in a match the coach has described as one "the whole country depends on" following defeat by Japan in their opening game.
Meyer’s response has been to make eight changes to his starting line-up, but 21-year-old Pollard is the newcomer he expects to have the biggest impact, one way or another.
“I was very straight and honest with the players,” Meyer said at a media conference in Birmingham on Wednesday.
“I’ve said to Handre, and I’ll put it out in the media, which I don’t usually do, there’s a game, you’ll need 23 players, but this game is going to be won and lost by Handre.”
The match against Samoa will only be Pollard’s 15thcap, but the fly-half has experience of leading a team in the key moments, inspiring South Africa to IRB Junior World Championship glory in 2012.
The World Cup is a different matter, however, and Meyer is stressing the need for tactical focus rather than flair.
“We all know that he is probably the best attacking 10 in the world,” Meyer said. “Handre is an unbelievable prospect, he will be one of the true greats.
“He scores the best tries, he’s been scoring unbelievable tries, but knockout rugby is not about that. What he brings to the attack with Fourie (du Preez) will be unbelievable, but I have to get it through to the players that it doesn’t mean it’s winning rugby.
“I’ve said to him, ‘when you won the [junior] World Cup as a 17-year-old, you played tactically, in the rain’, and that’s what we need from him. The attacking flair is obviously always going to be there, I’m very excited to see him, but he has to bring the other part as well, that’s what has been lacking.”
What Pollard lacks in experience, Meyer hopes to make up for by including 33-year-old World Cup-winner Du Preez alongside him in a new half-back partnership.
Du Preez, like several Springboks stars, has missed a lot of rugby recently due to injury, but his coach expects the scrum-half’s experience and instinct to shine through when it counts.
Meyer said: “He is a true general, he is one of the best rugby minds I’ve ever coached. He will look after Handre and obviously that’s been our dilemma; a lot of our superstars haven’t played a lot of rugby.
“I said before the World Cup that I thought the guys could handle pressure and now it’s up to them to show that.”
Another injured star returning for the Springboks is number eight Duane Vermeulen. South Africa’s player of the year for 2014 has not featured in a test during 2015 having undergone neck surgery in July. But he has declared himself fit for a full return on Saturday.
“If everyone had his mental attitude and desire to play for South Africa then we probably wouldn’t lose any games,” Meyer said.
“The plan was to let him play 20 minutes and bring him into the next game, but he just came forward and said, ‘I don’t care what the doctor says, I don’t care what the medical staff say, I’m going to play on Saturday and I’m going to play 80 minutes if that’s what it takes to win’.”