Year for sil­ver­ware – Pol­lard

Bulls’ pivot buoy­ant on mak­ing his re­turn after an in­jury-ru­ined 2016

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - VATA NGOB­ENI

SPRINGBOK and Bulls fly­half Han­dré Pol­lard is ready to be un­leashed after in­juries kept him out of the game for the whole of last year and is likely to lead the Bulls in their Su­per Rugby opener against the Storm­ers at New­lands next month.

The 22-year-old won’t be a wel­come sight for the Storm­ers but look­ing at the big­ger pic­ture, Springbok coach Al­lis­ter Coet­zee, along with Bulls coach Nol­lis Marais, will be cross­ing fin­gers that Pol­lard stays fit if their re­spec­tive teams are to be suc­cess­ful this year.

Pol­lard’s year-long ab­sence from rugby not only hin­dered the Bulls’ chances of mak­ing last year’s Su­per Rugby play-offs but it would also have had an ad­verse ef­fect on how the Spring­boks played.

With most of the Bulls play­ers a year older and wiser in the work­ings of Su­per Rugby, the ad­di­tion of Pol­lard will strengthen their cause in their bid to make the play-offs and even chal­lenge for the ti­tle.

His pres­ence will be made more sig­nif­i­cant by his lead­er­ship qual­i­ties which will make him a strong con­tender to lead both the Bulls and Spring­boks this year.

While Pol­lard will face stiff com­pe­ti­tion from Hanro Lieben­berg for the Bulls cap­taincy in the ab­sence of Adriaan Strauss, who is set to miss the first three games of the season as he re­cov­ers from a back op­er­a­tion, Pol­lard has also been touted as a pos­si­ble suc­ces­sor to Strauss in the na­tional team as well.

How­ever, Pol­lard has down­played his pos­si­ble lead­er­ship roles in the Bulls and Springbok teams and says his pri­mary fo­cus is to en­sure he is a bet­ter player than he was be­fore his shoul­der and knee in­juries.

“My pri­or­ity is to get back onto the field and noth­ing about the cap­taincy. First I want to get back into the Bulls team and take it from there,” Pol­lard said.

Prior to Pol­lard’s in­juries at the be­gin­ning of last year, the former World Ju­nior Player of the Year was firmly in the sad­dle as the Springbok pivot and had started ahead of Pa­trick Lam­bie and El­ton Jan­tjies.

What will be a scary thought for both Lam­bie and Jan­tjies will be Pol­lard’s pos­i­tive think­ing – that he should re­turn a bet­ter per­son and player con­sid­er­ing he’s had a year to pon­der on his ca­reer.

“I think you can al­ways im­prove. Even the day be­fore you are done, you can al­ways im­prove. I have learnt a lot of off-the-field stuff in the past year and that is a big part of rugby, not just the stuff that hap­pens on the field. It’s the way you can han­dle stuff off the field. I’ve ma­tured and hope­fully it trans­lates into my game.”

And Pol­lard will be the Bulls’ go-to man for Su­per Rugby as Marais’ side face their tough­est season yet as they play against the New Zealand con­fer­ence.

Pol­lard be­lieves this is the year the Bulls need to make their mark in the com­pe­ti­tion.

“This will be very big. We’ve been plan­ning and build­ing for the last three years. The build­ing is done and it is time we start per­form­ing, get­ting into fi­nals and win­ning tro­phies. It’s a young group of guys but we’ve played a lot of rugby. They un­der­stand what it’s about and there are a few senior play­ers who can lead us in the right di­rec­tion.

“It’s time we start win­ning tro­phies,” said Pol­lard. FIT AGAIN: Han­dré Pol­lard, the Bulls’ go-to man, is rar­ing to go after a night­mare year bat­tling nig­gling in­juries.

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