TOULON, France (AP) — South Africa will assess the Rugby World Cup readiness of flyhalf Handre Pollard after selecting him on Wednesday to start in the final pool game against Tonga for his first test in more than a year.
Pollard was added to the squad as an injury replacement and became a likely starter against Tonga after questions were raised over the Springboks’ goal-kicking in the defeat to top-ranked Ireland last weekend.
Pollard is in line for his first international since August 2022. Defending champion South Africa still needs to confirm its place in the quarterfinals.
The Springboks made 12 changes in all from the starting team that lost to the Irish 13-8, with only captain Siya Kolisi, lock Eben Etzebeth and No. 8 Jasper Wiese retained. Veteran No. 8 Duane Vermeulen starts at flanker.
Pollard is the pivot in what’s otherwise the same backline that played against minnow Romania two games ago, with scrumhalf Grant Williams again on the right wing.
Deon Fourie, who came to the Rugby World Cup as a flanker, will start at hooker for the first time in a test as the Springboks again look to develop cover in that position after the loss of first-choice No. 2 Malcolm Marx to a tournament-ending knee injury. Marx’s exit allowed Pollard to be called in to the squad, but that meant finding options at hooker.
Pollard was South Africa’s 2019 Rugby World Cup-winning flyhalf but initially was excluded from this squad because of his lack of game time due to a calf injury. That rustiness is still an issue and he’s only played 40 minutes for club team Leicester since recovering from the injury.
The Springboks missed 11 points through wayward goal-kicking against Ireland, with new flyhalf Manie Libbok failing with two fairly regulation shots and coming under pressure. That led to the likelihood of Pollard’s return, although South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus downplayed expectations this week by saying Pollard still hadn’t played much rugby and was “not Superman.”
For the Tonga game on Sunday, Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber also selected Marco van Staden, another player who normally operates as a flanker, as the reserve hooker. Libbok is on the bench, where the Springboks went with a traditional 5-3 forwards-backs split after having seven reserve forwards against Ireland.
South Africa is second in Pool B behind Ireland. Tonga has lost both of its pool games, to Ireland and Scotland.
South Africa: Willie le Roux, Grant Williams, Canan Moodie, Andre Esterhuizen, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Cobus Reinach; Jasper Wiese, Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi, Marvin Orie, Eben Etzebeth, Vincent Koch, Deon Fourie, Ox Nche. Reserves: Marco van Staden, Steven Kitshoff, Trevor Nyakane, Franco Mostert, Kwagga Smith, Jaden Hendrikse, Jesse Kriel, Manie Libbok.
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