Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Life without Handre Pollard … it’s just one quite glaring positional vacancy the Bulls will have to deal with in Super Rugby 2020.
Already one of the planet’s premier flyhalves and a recent World Cup winner, the Loftus-based franchise enjoyed 25-year-old Pollard’s distinguished services – even if there were a couple of significant injury intrusions along the way – for some six years after the former Paarl Gym wunderkind signed terms in Pretoria as a teenager.
But with Pollard now on a lucrative deal in French club rugby with Montpellier, Bulls head coach Pote Human has an interesting new head-scratcher at No 10.
While hardly a calamitous situation in the wake of the stalwart’s departure, he will have to choose primarily between the hugely contrasting levels of experience – and playing style, too – of returning 35-year-old Springbok veteran Morne Steyn and Manie Libbok, some 13 years his junior, but who had effectively been Pollard’s understudy for a couple of seasons.
The latter, a former SA Schools and SA U20 representative, has every right to feel he deserves more extended opportunities in the flyhalf channel for the Bulls now; he is renowned for his attacking X-factor.
Steyn is a rather different animal, of course, more renowned for his abilities when playing to a more conservative game-plan, strongly based around tactical kicking and routinely landing shots at the posts – an area where he has few peers.
So how will the Bulls deal with this conundrum in a key slot?
One person who believes he has an idea is Vlok Cilliers, the kicking expert and former Springbok and SA Sevens player who will assist France with their kick strategy during the looming Six Nations.
“First of all, I think Pote will stick quite closely to his already stated view that Morne will play a strong mentoring role with Manie,” says Cilliers. “But that also doesn’t mean he won’t make good use of both guys … they just bring different advantages.
“I can see Steyn being fielded, to be a game controller, when they tackle some of the tough, grinding games, for example – like a derby against, say, the Sharks in Durban (the opener on January 31 – Sport24) or the Stormers in Cape Town when you usually don’t see too much expansive rugby being played.
“On those dates, Manie might be more of an impact presence, whereas there will be other fixtures where his less (predictable) style of play makes him the starter.”
Cilliers says Steyn will be of enormous help behind the scenes in improving the consistency of both Libbok’s place- and out-of-hand kicking.
“He is good at passing on knowledge, as you would hope of someone who has played high-level rugby in just about every corner of the world.
“Libbok blows a bit hot and cold, and Morne will help him improve that pattern. On his best days, Manie can be brilliant … I remember a game once against the Lions at Ellis Park where he looked completely like a Springbok, kicking with distance, nailing his kicks at goal with authority, great passing.”
Cilliers also doesn’t write off the possibility – especially if injury or other reasons were to befall Bok fullback Warrick Gelant – of Steyn operating at fullback, automatically giving the Bulls the assurance on the field of two specialist goal-kickers.
“He played a lot there in his time at Stade Francais, and has got more and more familiar with the positional responsibilities there, which is additionally helpful to the Bulls.”
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