If he isn’t already, he certainly will be soon. Choosing a standout South African player after the weekend’s bore-fest should be remarkably difficult. Pieter-Steph Du Toit is usually a fair bet – the forceful, aggressive, ubiquitous (and plain enormous) openside is surely in the running for player of the tournament – but it is difficult to look beyond Handre Pollard.
Pollard even kicked, by his standards, relatively poorly out of hand against Wales. He also kicked again and again and again and again. Tactically, some kicks were loose, but the job got done and the Springboks squeezed Wales into submission.
Four minutes from time came the decisive moment, the moment such an encounter was always going to hinge on. Pollard was faced with a huge, difficult, distant, angled kick, and Pollard nailed it through the posts. The 25-year-old is now the Springbok’s top point scorer in Rugby World Cup history, but his game is about far more than that.
It was a series of hard-running Pollard breaks that injected the impetuous and fast ball into the South African game that eventually led to Damian de Allende’s decisive score. He is a very South African fly half: nearly 100kg and capable of smacking a kick over from 55 metres.
Again though, it is unwise to reduce Pollards game to any number of attributes. He is not merely a hard hitting centre with a boot who happens to wear 10 on his back. His rugby intelligence, his ability to distribute right up at the gain line, his defensive aggression, his speed of thought and foot, all make him one of the world’s very best.
What defines Pollard more than anything else, though, is composure. If Sunday’s pressure kick was impressive, then his heroics to beat Wales in the quarter final four years ago beggar belief. At the time just 21 and only 15 months into his Test career, he calmly landed five penalties and a drop-goal to send his country through.
That was just one step on a process of maturation that has seen him establish himself amongst the very best. At just 18 years old Pollard drove the Junior Boks to the 2012 U20 World Championship title. Two years later, he beat Maro Itoje to be named as 2014 World Junior Player of the Year.
This is a player who has always been destined for success, England will have to be wary not to present him with any opportunities to seize it come Saturday. He usually doesn’t have to be asked twice.
Written by Joe Ronan.