Jacques Nienaber urges caution over Handre Pollard's long-awaited return

Jacques Nienaber urges caution over Handre Pollard's long-awaited return

Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber has warned fans not to expect Handre Pollard to last the full 80 minutes against Tonga on Sunday.

The World Cup-winning flyhalf will make his first Test appearance for over 13 months this weekend after a number of battles with injury.

READ: Handre Pollards slots in as Springboks names team to face Tonga

Pollard was called into the 33-man squad after hooker Malcolm Marx was ruled out and he will start at pivot against the Pacific Islanders.

He has had little game time over the past few months, however, and Nienaber has warned he could struggle physically in the opening match.

South Africa went for a 7-1 split on the bench against Ireland but they have gone to a 5-3 for Sunday's encounter, with Manie Libbok in reserve should Pollard go down with cramp.

"If you look at Handre, he hasn't played top-level club rugby since the first weekend in May," Nienaber told reporters: "It's about 19 weeks ago and in that 19 weeks, he's only played 30 minutes and that was in the Premiership Cup [for Leicester Tigers against Sale Sharks] a fortnight ago.

"There's a good possibility that he probably would struggle to get through an intense game, a good probability that he might cramp up.

"That's why we went with the 5-3 split and have Manie on the bench just for cover."

"His club, Leicester Tigers, also made sure he was 100 per cent fit before playing him and then he only played one half," the coach said.

"They ensured he recovered enough to take the full load of a week's training and then play in a game.

"We will also slowly build him up, but I will be surprised if he lasts the full 80."

READ: Willie Le Roux expects 'brutal' Tonga battle for Springboks

Nienaber was asked what he expected from Pollard on his Springbok return in terms of his on-field performance and the head coach attempted to lower expectations.

"He hasn't played for the Boks in 13 months," he added. "He hasn't played international rugby for more than a year.

"He also hasn't played top-level rugby since the first week in May, which is 19 weeks ago. In saying that, he's a quality player and we all know that.

"He's won a World Cup before, he's won a British & Irish Lions series before, so he understands what international rugby and top international rugby is about.

"However, I think we must stay real in that and give him time to settle in and get used to the pace of it.

"Because he is such an experienced player, because he knows what it is all about, he will settle into his stride a lot quicker than a younger or less experienced player.

"What do I expect of him? A realistic performance - given that he hasn't played a Test for 13 months and that he only played 40 minutes [of club rugby] in 19 weeks.

"That is the reality."