Just over a week after he was named IRB Junior Player of the Year Handre Pollard will continue his meteoric rise in South African rugby when he wins his first Springbok cap this weekend.
Pollard, who led South Africa to the final of this year’s Junior World Championship and was a member of the Junior Boks side that won the tournament in 2012, has been named at fly half by Springboks head coach Heyneke Meyer for Saturday’s international against Scotland.
The 20-year-old is one of five uncapped players who have been named in the Springboks’ 23-man matchday squad. In total, the Springbok starting team shows six changes from the side which beat Wales by 31-30 in Nelspruit last weekend.
“Handré is a very talented player and has a big opportunity this week, but he’ll have Fourie du Preez’s experience next to him, while he’s played a lot with Jan Serfontein before," Meyer said. "It’s great to have the current and a former Junior Player of the Year in the same backline."
Over 300 players have followed the same path as Pollard and teammate Serfontein and graduated from the IRB’s Junior World Championship to senior honours, winger Jack Nowell having achieved the step up after being involved in England’s success in 2013.
Like Pollard, New Zealand duo Aaron Cruden and Julian Savea were Junior Players of the Year, in 2009 and 2010 respectively, and they continue to go from strength-to-strength in an All Blacks jersey.
Given his outstanding displays at JWC 2014 it would come as no surprise if Pollard felt equally at home at the highest level should he get his chance in Port Elizabeth. Pollard inspired his side en route to the final in New Zealand, coming up with the big plays and moments of magic when the Boks needed them most.
Meet Handre Pollard
He produced a stellar performance against New Zealand in the semi-final, intercepting a stray pass and dashing 50 metres to the line as well as kicking 12 points. Sadly, for South Africa, his efforts to land a match-winning drop goal in the final came to nothing as England secured back-to-back titles by the narrowest of margins.
Pollard’s ability to bring out his best game under pressure will come as no surprise to Boks coach Meyer who is a long-time admirer of the fly half.
And South Africa U20 coach Dawie Theron has little doubt that 20-year-old Bulls star will continue to live up to expectations.
“I believe without doubt he will make the step up,” said South Africa U20 coach Dawie Theron. “He is physical enough and big enough – he has all the attributes to become a great player.
“He still has to go out and do it. “The opportunity has been given to him and he must prove it, but I believe and the entire team has faith in his ability to do it (make the step up).”