CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - If South Africa are to hear the sweet sounds of success at the Rugby World Cup in Japan, then the conductor of their orchestra is undoubtedly flyhalf Handre Pollard, who just a few years ago wondered if he would ever play again.
Much of the Springboks’ game-plan revolves around the solid number 10 whose clever kicking can buy them yards in territory, while off the tee he is as dependable as anybody in world rugby.
He may have lost some of his pace with ball in hand over the past few years, but Pollard remains a strong runner and dependable asset to the defensive line.
He controls the tempo of the Boks’ game, and his on-field intelligence and decision-making are usually spot-on in the pivotal position behind a powerful Bok pack.
Pollard is among the senior leadership group in the squad and a valuable ally for captain Siya Kolisi in making backline calls from set-pieces.
“I’m fortunate that I now have a few more years of Test rugby behind me, as do many other players in the squad,” Pollard told reporters in the build-up to the World Cup.
“Even though my role has probably changed a bit and I’m one of the more senior players, it’s impossible not to get excited about playing in a World Cup and I would still like to bring some energy to the squad.”
The 25-year-old has 42 test caps, a number that would be higher had he not sat out almost two years between 2015 and 2017 with crippling knee and shoulder problems that threatened his career.
He also had a scare in 2016 after complications following shoulder surgery produced an infection that was so bad doctors at one stage told him he risked losing his arm.
“There was a possibility, they told me that early on, but luckily we identified it as early as possible, if we had let it go another month or so there was a big chance of that,” Pollard told reporters at the time.
He made his test debut in 2014 and started every game for the Boks, bar their stunning 34-32 loss to Japan in Brighton, as they finished third at the last World Cup in England,
The scenario for the Boks and Pollard in Japan is simple – if he has a good World Cup, they have a real chance of lifting the trophy. But if he fails to fire, it seems highly unlikely they will get close to the final.
“Even though I now know what to expect, the excitement levels are still the same,” Pollard admitted. “We know we have a bit battle coming our way and that it’s going to be tough, but we’re looking forward to it.”
Pollard will join French club Montpellier after the World Cup.
Editing by Neil Robinson