Defeat by Ireland leaves South Africa with Pollard poser

rugby24 September 2023 07:12| © Reuters
Springboks against Ireland © Getty Images

There will be no panic in the South Africa camp in the wake of their 13-8 loss to Ireland in a bruising Rugby World Cup pool B clash in Paris on Saturday, but there is a tough choice to be made around the flyhalf berth.

Ireland deserved their victory with some heroic defence, breakdown dominance and the ability to take their chances, while South Africa were inaccurate in the opposition 22 and off the kicking tee, missing three penalties and a conversion.

Those 11 wasted points laid bare the headache facing coach Jacques Nienaber, though he played down the issue.

"We missed a couple of points off the tee, but I won’t say that’s the sole reason for not getting across the line," Nienaber told reporters.

"In the first half alone we lost two balls close to the try line and had another two opportunities later on, so that’s four opportunities, plus those points off tee."

Incumbent flyhalf Manie Libbok is a dynamic number 10 and one of the best in the world when kicking out of hand, but he has had a few issues off the tee and can be described as erratic.

There is a reason why the Springboks took the bold move to replace injured frontline hooker Malcolm Marx with flyhalf Handre Pollard, who was central to their 2019 World Cup win with his accuracy going for posts.

It leaves them exposed in the front row of the scrum, but while Pollard offers less than Libbok as an attacking threat with ball in hand, his introduction to the team would offer more opportunity to accumulate points through shots at goal.

That could herald a return to the formula for their 2019 success, squeezing penalties out of teams with forward muscle and building scoreboard pressure through kicks at goal.

"We’ll have to discuss," Nienaber said. "Lots of things go into team selection. We will get the medical status after 24-48 hours and then we will go through our team selection process as normal."

Pollard’s return to the starting 15 might have been on the cards for the knockout rounds anyway, should the Springboks get there. No team has won the World Cup without a reliable goal-kicker.

"We’ve got Tonga next (on 1 October)," Nienaber said. "For us to start thinking about France (in a quarterfinal) would be getting ahead of ourselves. We will just focus on Tonga for now."