Handre Pollard opens up about Boks' unconventional Rugby World Cup tactics

Handre Pollard opens up about Boks' unconventional Rugby World Cup tactics

Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard has reflected on South Africa's Rugby World Cup campaign and their tactics during the tournament, as well as his call-up to the squad.

Pollard was initially left out of the squad due to injury but was called up following a training ground injury to Malcolm Marx during the pool stages.

He went on to play a pivotal role in the Springboks defending their title, scoring 33 points, including 12 in the final, converting all 13 of his shots at goal.

The playmaker was a key member of the 2019 squad that won the World Cup in Japan, finishing as the tournament's top scorer with 69 points.

However, he was not named in the initial squad to defend the title in Japan despite being on track to return from injury during the pool stages.

Speaking on the Big Jim Show, Pollard explained that he was initially disappointed but understood that the decision was not "personal" and was the best for the team.

"It's very simple: if you don't train and you're out and not available to play, then you're not going to be in the squad; it's as simple as that," Pollard said.

"It doesn't matter who you are. Siya [Kolisi] was a tight call with his knee [injury], of course, we know the story about that. That's just the facts. It is what it is; there's nothing personal.

"We were just told, the standby group of guys, 'stay ready, go back to your clubs, and if something happens, we might call you back'."

That call did come for Pollard, but it was not under the circumstances that you would expect, as hooker Marx sustained a knee injury that ruled him out of the tournament.

He added: "I certainly don't think when Malcolm [Marx] went down that I was going to get the call because it is such a specialist position, and we were thin there as well, but I got the call, and it was unreal."

After famously selecting six forwards and two backs on the bench during the World Cup in Japan, the Springboks took that tactic one step further in France, selecting seven forwards and one back for the clash against Ireland in the pool stages.

They reverted back to the more conventional 5-3 split for the quarter and semi-finals before reviving the 7-1 for the final against New Zealand.

While many feel that the tactics and the decision to implement them were chaotic, Pollard explained that the feeling in camp was vastly opposite.

"No, no, no, I know some of the stuff we do seems chaotic like crazy, but it's not; it's a mutual trust that's growing through the players and the coaches towards each other, vice versa when they come up with these ideas, which might seem crazy for the people from outside, it's always well thought out," he said.

"We discuss it openly. We all know the risk of these decisions and plans and we also know the pros on both sides. So we'll buy into it, and it's actually very, very calm; it's not chaotic at all, but I can see why it looks that way from the outside."

Although the coaches did get buy-in from the players, the fly-half revealed that there were some good-hearted jokes early in the week about how players would fill in if there were injuries in the backline.

"There is a bit of it, but a little bit worried as well at times, the front-row is alright, it's especially (worrying) with the backs," he explained.

"We were thinking a lot like we have cover for one injury everywhere, but if we lose two on the bounce like we have been in trouble in the past with a 6-2 split, and we lose two guys in 10 minutes of the game and we are struggling.

"So it was (the conversation) what happens after that second injury was like Kwagga [Smith] was going to go defend on the blind wing, and Cheslin [Kolbe] was doing his box kicks during the weeks, we had a good laugh about that he was hitting them beautifully by the way - he is a freak, so I wasn't expecting anything else.

"You try to see the funny part of it as well but I mean it was all business by then by that time of the tournament."