TOKYO – Handre Pollard is carrying the hopes of a nation on his shoulders, but the pressure is not a burden.
In fact, he says, he is relishing the prospect of lining up a Rugby World Cup-winning kick, which he has been dreaming of for most of his 25 years.
“I love it,” said Pollard on Friday. “That’s why you train, that’s why you put in the hours. If you imagine from being a little boy in the backyard, thinking to yourself, ‘This kick is in the World Cup final’ and all those scenarios. You’ve basically been preparing your whole life for it.”
South Africa are bidding to win their third RWC title when they play England at International Stadium Yokohama on Saturday. Their two victorious finals, in 1995 and 2007, were tryless but Pollard is not concerned that the performance of the kickers may again prove the deciding factor.
As an 18-year-old schoolboy he helped to steer South Africa to the 2012 World Under-20 title. Two years later he was captain when the ‘Baby Boks’ lost 21-20 in the final against an England side led by Maro Itoje.
He believes such experiences helped him stay calm as he slotted the winning late penalty in last weekend’s 19-16 semi-final win against Wales. And that moment, in turn, could prove influential in the RWC 2019 final.
“I guess you could look back at every big game you’ve played in your career, and try to get whatever you can out of it,” said the fly-half.
“It’s going to be pressure, it’s going to be tough. But you’ve got to embrace it, you’ve got to enjoy it. And it’s not just the kicking – it’s the whole game where there is going to be pressure all round.
“Use it in the right way and send it in the right direction, that’s the secret to finals rugby. I’m very excited and I can’t wait to get going.”
The Springboks have insisted that they will stick with their forwards-dominated approach against England, and will not be lured into playing a more attacking style.
The tactic has paid off for Rassie Erasmus’ side, with their opening defeat to New Zealand followed by five consecutive victories over Namibia, Italy, Canada, Japan and Wales.
But Pollard revealed that the Boks are capable of catching England off-guard in the title decider.
“We’ve still got a few things we can throw at them. But they’ve also got a blueprint, it’s pretty obvious. I don’t think it’s a big secret with either side,” he said.
“We’ll come out with a couple of different plays, something that you try and surprise your opponents with.
“But in general, the DNA – what we believe in and what they believe in – is not going to change in a week’s time. It is what it is, and that’s what got us here and what got them here.
“So, we won’t go away from something that’s working. We will have a couple of trick plays maybe. But mostly, everything will stay the same for both sides.”
Ashfak Mohamed is in Japan covering the Springboks for the Rugby World Cup’s Rugby News Service