Pollard is perhaps the most incisive flyhalf with ball in hand in South Africa since Henry Honiball and the Western Province defence will be on red alert every time the Bulls visit their 22, with the new Springbok sensation proving lethal in recent weeks every time he has run at the opposition line.
But Western Province will not only be under threat from Pollard’s running skills. They can expect an aerial bombardment from the Bulls as well, with two accomplished tactical kickers lining up at 10 and 12 in Jacques-Louis Potgieter and Pollard, and wing Bjorn Basson, seemingly back at his best, giving chase.
“The unfortunate injury to Burger Odendaal gave us this opportunity to play Handre at inside centre, even though his first choice is flyhalf. He played a lot of his rugby at 12 last year and he will definitely bring something different. We feel confident with the options it gives us, we have two decision-makers at 10 and 12 now, they’re more than just kickers but they can also release pressure with the boot or produce attacking kicks,” Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said yesterday.
If the Bulls can get their fair share of front-foot ball from their forwards, then they certainly have the weapons to put Western Province under pressure.
“It’s definitely going to be a collision game, both teams have good packs and that’s where the game will be won or lost,” Bulls captain and flank Deon Stegmann said. “We’ve had some good games up front in the last few weeks, and our scrum and maul are definitely strengths.”
Western Province can expect plenty of ferocious ball-carrying from the Bulls, with Dean Greyling, Bongi Mbonambi and Werner Kruger named as the front row, while there will be explosiveness from the bench with Marcel van der Merwe, rotated scrumhalf Piet van Zyl, the returning Sampie Mastriet and Jesse Kriel lurking there.
Ludeke praised Western Province as a top-class side, but said his team had developed a considerable amount of momentum from a winning run under pressure.
“Western Province deserve to be top of the log, they have played great rugby this season and are deservedly hosting a semi-final. But whatever team takes their chances best on Saturday will win and we’ve seen now what our guys do in tight situations. It brought the guys together, they lifted their game, and the decision-making was excellent, like the way they handled the last few minutes of the must-win game against the Free State Cheetahs,” Ludeke said.
Blue Bulls team – 15-Ulrich Beyers, 14-Akona Ndungane, 13-William Small-Smith, 12-Handre Pollard, 11-Bjorn Basson, 10-Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9-Rudy Paige, 8-Jono Ross, 7-Jacques du Plessis, 6-Deon Stegmann, 5-Grant Hattingh, 4-Paul Willemse, 3-Werner Kruger, 2-Bongi Mbonambi, 1-Dean Greyling. Reserves: 16-Callie Visagie, 17-Marcel van der Merwe, 18-Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 19-Wiaan Liebenberg, 20-Piet van Zyl, 21-Sampie Mastriet, 22-Jesse Kriel.