Toulon — Jacques Nienaber says he expects a “realistic performance” from Handre Pollard when the 2019 World Cup winning fly-half makes his first appearance for South Africa in 13 months against Tonga on Sunday.
The 29-year-old was initially ruled out of the World Cup, but returned to competitive action earlier this month with his English club Leicester before being called up as a replacement for injured hooker Malcolm Marx.
Four years ago, Pollard scored 25 points across the quarter-final against Japan and the semi-final against Wales before scoring 22 as South Africa beat England 32-12 in the final.
He did not feature in Saturday’s 13-8 defeat by Ireland but the failure of South Africa’s two goalkickers Manie Libbok and scrum-half Faf de Klerk in that match increased the calls for Pollard’s return to the team.
He gets his chance in their final Pool B match against a physical Tonga side that has been soundly beaten by Ireland and Scotland in their two matches thus far.
1⃣3⃣ players who featured against Ireland are back for the #Springboks‘ last pool game of #RWC2023, on Sunday against Tonga in Marseille – more here: https://t.co/29J2VALMLH 🏉#StrongerTogether pic.twitter.com/1ztizr5wqx
— Springboks (@Springboks) September 27, 2023
A bonus point win against the Tongans in Marseille will all but guarantee the Springboks a place in the last eight.
“What do I expect of him? A realistic performance,” said Nienaber.
“I think that’s where we must all stay in the reality of it.
“He hasn’t played for the Boks in 13 months – he last played in the last week in August 2022 for the Springboks.
“He hasn’t played top-level rugby since the first week in May, which is 19 weeks ago.”
Nienaber said in selecting Pollard they had a proven big match player but reiterated fans must give him time to get himself up to speed at Test level.
“He’s a quality rugby player and we all know that,” said Nienaber.
“He’s won a World Cup before, he’s won a British & Irish Lions series before.
“So he understands what international rugby and top international rugby is about, but I think we must stay real in that and give him time to settle in and get used to the pace of it.”
🗣️ “He hasn’t played for the Boks in 13 months. He hasn’t played international rugby for more than a year.” #RWC2023
🇿🇦 The Boks are lowering expectations ahead of Handre Pollard’s return. https://t.co/S8AKfnJO7U
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) September 28, 2023
Libbok – who with ball in hand offers more than Pollard – is on the bench as Nienaber said there is “a good probability that he (Pollard) might cramp up.”
Nienaber, who leaves after the tournament to become director of rugby at Irish powerhouse Leinster, defended the kickers who have filled in saying the statistics largely backed him up.
“In that 13 months that Handre wasn’t available for the Springboks, there were 16 test matches and we won 75 per cent of those,” said the 50-year-old.
“We lost four, and of the four test matches we lost, two were against Ireland — who are the number one team in the world and everybody is struggling against them, they haven’t lost a test match since the one against New Zealand in Auckland (July 2, 2022).
“In three of those test matches it was very close, even this past one (against Ireland), up to the 78th minute there were two points in it.
“Yes, we are not consistent off the tee. But the guys that stepped in, I don’t think they did a bad job.”
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