Sat, 18 Jan 2020

Cape Town - Handre Pollard joining Montpellier will prime him perfectly for a third World Cup when it is held on French soil in 2023.

Already a key influencer for the Springboks in their charge to the RWC 2019 title in Japan, ex-Bulls stalwart Pollard could also be at the peak of his rugby life - he'd be aged 29 - when they defend the Webb Ellis Cup in four years' time.

So says specialist kicking expert and former Springbok and SA Sevens player Vlok Cilliers, who is about to embark on an enticing French challenge of his own: he will advise the Les Bleus backline players in that capacity for their crack at the 2020 Six Nations from fairly early in the New Year.

Cilliers has been roped in to help by new French head coach and former Test scrumhalf Fabien Galthie, a Western Province team-mate of his in the mid-1990s.

"When you consider their importance to the trophy win in Japan and how vital they should still be in 2023, it is great for the Springboks, really, that guys like Handre, Cheslin Kolbe and Eben Etzebeth all have French club deals at the moment," Cilliers told Sport24.

"It will be a massive advantage that they'll know the conditions especially well ... more South Africans could well say 'enough of Super Rugby' and play there in the interim period, too.

"That means you are potentially developing more Springboks back home, while also getting plenty of the more established ones extremely used to the French landscape; look how someone like Rynhardt Elstadt improved his game by being based there (with Toulouse) and then getting a Bok call-up earlier this year."

Cilliers says French winter rugby is light years removed from the kinder, late-summer conditions generally associated with Super Rugby in the southern hemisphere.

"It is cold, there can be driving, icy rain, and there are also plenty of quite late, night-time kick-offs that only increase the difficulty, and challenges for players ... remember that although he was brought up in the Cape, most of Pollard's (first-class) rugby has been in dry, Highveld conditions with no wind.

"There are still some flyhalves around the world who can only play well in certain conditions, so if you become decent in all of them, you are a real asset to your team.

"It's an art to be able to play with and against both the wind and the rain, as well as to know how to plant your foot on a slow, heavy pitch.

"Handre is already quite a long way down the road in that respect, and what I liked about his World Cup (2019) was how he got his place-kicking accuracy to its very best in the semi-final and final; I think he only missed one kick - his first one against England in the final - across those two games."

Pollard's role in ensuring safe passage through the tense semi against Wales should never be forgotten: he broke the late 16-16 stalemate with a difficult, angled penalty to make all the difference on the day.

Cilliers admits that, immediately ahead of that high-pressure crack at the posts, he had harboured some doubts about the No 10 succeeding with it.

"I really don't know why, but I had a bit of a fear he might miss it ... whereas I would have felt different, probably, if it was a Morne Steyn, Owen Farrell or Dan Carter lining it up.

"But he proved me wrong - he's now landing the (high-stakes) goals regularly, if you think back also to the vital conversion of Herschel Jantjies' late try in Wellington earlier this year to ensure the draw with the All Blacks: it could not have gone straighter through the middle.

"It was a sign of maturity ... and that maturity should only develop further in France.

"As long as he avoids any further serious injury, Handre should be perfectly placed at 29 to be a dominant figure at RWC 2023 - he would have every chance of playing a fourth personal one, too, as he might well still be active at the top level at 33."

*Follow our chief writer: @RobHouwing

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