Handre Pollard should probably forgive the broader South African rugby public for being anxious about seeing what he’s capable of in 2018.
For years, the 23-year-old Bulls pivot has teased many with glimpses of real class.
But various injuries over the past two years as well as struggles with form means the true potential of Pollard is yet to be determined.
Bulls mentor John Mitchell though is adamant his Springbok flyhalf’s only battle in 2018 is with himself.
“It’s not about proving something to the rugby public. He’ll do that naturally by himself,” said the former All Blacks coach ahead of the Bulls’ Super Rugby opener against the Hurricanes at Loftus on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s all about proving himself to himself. If he remains healthy and robust for the whole competition then the Springboks are going to receive an outstanding athlete. Handre just needs to concentrate on what he’s doing at the moment. It’s dangerous to let someone else’s expectations control you.”
Even if Pollard’s being given some form of slack by what has become a demanding (in a positive sense) coaching setup, a battle of wills with Canes counterparts Ihaia West and Beauden Barrett – who’s on the bench – is hardly an easy way to start the season.
That said, if he’s to prove why he’s considered the Boks’ first-choice No 10, this is a perfect early platform.
Encouragingly, Mitchell believes Pollard is stronger than ever.
“Handre’s done a lot about his health. He’s lean and he’s on the pitch every day working on his game,” said the Bulls coach.
“It’s a sing that he’s potentially becoming resilient as well. We might not get all 18 games out him because we’ll need to manage him. But if we have him for the majority of the campaign, he can contribute a lot to our continuity and confidence.”
With highly-rated backup in Marnitz Boshoff, Mitchell is also not averse to exploring the possibility of Pollard doing duty at inside centre.
“Handre can play at 12. We’re very fortunate to have a very experienced player in Marnitz. We’ll see that combination at some stage in the competition.”