Meyer has confidence in Pollard against 'quality' Sexton
SOUTH African head coach Heyneke Meyer has no fears about pitching a relative rookie out-half into the fray against Ireland this week in opposition to what he labels one of the outstanding pivots of world rugby, Jonathan Sexton.
Handre Pollard will earn just his seventh Springbok cap on Saturday against the man who helped steer the Lions to Test success in 2013, as well as Ireland's Six Nations title success last season.
But following his stunning brace against the All Blacks in the concluding Rugby Championship encounter at Ellis Park last time out, Pollard has more than justified the coach's burgeoning reputation as an enigmatic risk-taker, in stark contrast to some of his conservative predecessors.
"He has been with me since we recruited him at 15 so I know him quite well," says Meyer, after having the relative luxury of unveiling an unchanged team for an opening northern hemisphere tour game.
"He is a special, special attacking player. He is big and strong and can attack the line and that is what we are trying to do. In saying that, I don't want to put too much pressure on him.
"He is still only 20 years old and he is playing against an unbelievable out-half. He has a lot of work to do on his tactical game and his kicking game. That's why I put him in these conditions, so he can learn.
"It's not being disrespectful to Ireland but one thing the media didn't pick up, and why Morne Steyn doesn't play, is because of Pollard's defence against the All Blacks who attacked that channel. He is an unbelievable defender.
"The thing about Handre is he is a very good leader. Your leader at ten is very relaxed and sometimes too relaxed but that's the youth. He is a great all-round player and he is also going to be a great 12, 13 and full-back so he is an all-round ball player: big and physical and mentally tough.
"The one thing is his tactical kicking which will come with age and he can be a South African captain in the future as well.
"I have played Morne at 18 so I have always played out-halves young. I knew it was going to be a huge risk against the All Blacks but I also knew that he is an unknown force and they had planned for Morne and other guys and a more kicking game and it has worked for us.
"I always believe to give youngsters a chance if they are good enough but you have to balance that with a few experienced players around them.
"I have been in Super Rugby where I'm proud of my record but I have lost 11 out of 11 and learned the most about rugby, so you can't just play youngsters and throw them to the wolves.
"You have to have a good blend. So I have always taken risks with a lot of players. In saying that, I am quite tough with the boy. I said he must keep feet on the ground because there is still a lot to learn about tactical kicking but he has got unbelievable attributes."
Meyer once lost 11 games of Super Rugby in succession with the Bulls so he has learned the hard way and he is cognisant of the pressure that may come upon the gifted youngster, particularly when lined up against the inestimable talent of Sexton.
"I have just spoke to Handre about that," he remarks. "I truly believe Sexton is up there with the best. The last five years there have been really great out-halves around the world and the crop of out-halves coming through now is probably the best there has ever been.
"He is a quality, quality player and what I like about him is he is big, he is a good defender, he is a greater attacker and the other thing I also like about him is he is a very good tactical kicker.
"If you look at the Six Nations, Ireland had the best scrum and lineout as well but the one thing I believe they were way ahead of the rest was their tactical kicking and the contestable kicking.
"It was one thing we struggled with against the All Blacks. It was a South African strength and we have moved away from that.
"I know he is a very good tactical kicker and one of the dangers is that if he is going to turn us and put us into the corners it is going to be a long day for us.
"We can't get out of that. I rate him up there with the best. I have always rated him. He is a quality player. If he plays well, Ireland plays well."
The South African run-on side compiles 672 caps but also has some serious big hitters on a bench.
South Africa (v Ireland) - W le Roux; C Hendricks, J Serfontein, Jean de Villiers (capt), B Habana; H Pollard, F Hougaard; T Mtawarira, B du Plessis, J du Plessis; E Etzebeth, V Matfield; M Coetzee, O Mohoje, D Vermeulen. Reps: A Strauss, T Nyakane, C Oosthuizen, B Botha, S Burger, C Reinach, P Lambie, JP Pietersen.
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