Pollard’s timely reminder he is a big occasion player

rugby28 October 2019 03:00| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
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Handre Pollard © Gallo Images

One of the most positive aspects to come out of the Springboks’ 19-16 win over Wales in their Rugby World Cup semifinal was the way Handre Pollard served an emphatic reminder that he is a man for the big moments.

The Bok flyhalf copped a bit of flak earlier in the tournament for his missed kicks that cost the team in the big pool phase game against New Zealand, and he also missed some kicks against Japan in the quarterfinal.

Given the fact that England have two highly consistent place-kickers in Owen Farrell and George Ford, neither of whom miss often, plus a long range option in fullback Elliot Daly, we could have been looking at Pollard’s kicking as a potential Achilles heel in a final on Saturday that could well be decided by pressure kicks.

But Pollard stepped up to the plate magnificently on Sunday, both in general play and with his place-kicking. In the former aspect it was his break back through the Welsh heavy traffic that created the momentum that centre Damian de Allende exploited for his dazzling try, and he also managed the game well.

It was the place-kicking though that would have given South African fans the most heart, particularly the pressure kick that won the game four minutes from time. The occasion doesn’t come much bigger than having to land an angled penalty to win your team a World Cup semifinal. Many fans and coaches get so over-wrought in a moment like that they can’t even watch, so imagine the pressure on the poor kicker on whose shoulders, or kicking boot, so much depends.

“It does go through your mind (that this is the winning kick, this is the moment that decides the game) and of course that does make you nervous, but you try and get around that by just focusing on the process,” said Pollard.

“By going through the process you try and get rid of all the external factors, all the thoughts, but of course you are only human, so it is easier said than done. You are going to be a bit nervous, so you just stick to your process and focus on that as much as you can.

“Fortunately I had had a good day with the boot before that. So when I took that kick the confidence was high,” he added.

Pollard did have a good day with the boot on a night where many of his kicks were far from easy. His angled conversion to De Allende’s try might have been as crucial to the end result as his winning penalty.

Pollard said it was a mixture of relief and excitement that coursed through his veins after the final whistle.

“I was both relieved and excited, I feel we are now in with a good shot,” said Pollard.

“There is 80 minutes now between us and England and the side that wants it the most and is the most prepared on the day will win the Webb Ellis Cup. It is exciting to be in that position.”

Pollard appears to rate his team’s chances of getting it right, but he knows that the Boks will have to step up a few notches to beat an England team he felt could get even better than they were in their big semifinal win over New Zealand.

“No, I don’t think England played their final in that game. They still left a few tries out there and there are a few things they could have been even better at. They were pretty unbelievable against the All Blacks. It was clear they physically dominated them but there again that, the physical battle, is something our boys embrace and enjoy. It will be a great challenge.”

It will be, and it could be pretty brutal too, given the way both packs are playing. Pollard gave the forwards in front of him a lot of the credit for the win over Wales.

“The boys embraced the occasion well and were pretty phenomenal and they keep doing it week after week. I can’t tell you how awesome it is to play behind that pack the way they keep us going forward and it made all the difference again today,” said the flyhalf.

While many back home will lament the watching paint dry aesthetic value of the Bok approach to winning the game, Pollard said it was necessary against those particular opponents.

“Wales just don’t give anything away, they have that mindset, and we knew we just had to be more patient than them. That is their game. We just resolved to kick it back on them every time they kicked on us. Sometimes it worked for them and sometimes it worked for us but we were patient enough tonight and that was why we won the game.”