Springboks' Handré Pollard loving every minute of playing again

PRETORIA -- Handré Pollard is finally enjoying his rugby again after injuries prevented him from taking that next step in his Springbok jersey.

After a top World Cup in 2015, Pollard missed the entire 2016 season with a knee injury, before an ankle injury kept him out of the 2017 June series against France and most of South Africa's Rugby Championship campaign.

Pollard wasn't at his best when he came back from that knee injury, as the Bulls bizarrely also gave him the added pressure of the captaincy that year instead of an opportunity to focus on his own game.

However, he finally showed glimpses of the Pollard who made his international debut as a 20-year-old in the Rugby Championship match against the All Blacks. He had a wonderful 10-minute cameo in the one-point defeat at Newlands.

But in 2018, Pollard has had a full Super Rugby season behind him and helped the Boks beat England 2-1 in the June series. He didn't have the best start to the Rugby Championship, especially with the boot. But there is something about facing the All Blacks that gets the flyhalf's juices flowing.

Pollard was magnificent against the All Blacks, as he led the Boks physical charge from the No 10 position on attack and defence. He showed his versatility by combining beautifully with Elton Jantjies when he moved to inside centre.

The Bulls man then had arguably the match of the season against Australia, when he guarded his channel against the big Wallaby runners with an iron first, while also making a break that led to Faf de Klerk's try and kicking all his goals.

"It's great being fit again and it's great playing a lot of minutes after missing two years of rugby, which was very frustrating. You really, really miss it, these occasions and these big Test matches," Pollard said ahead of the Boks' meeting with the All Blacks on Saturday. "To be back is very enjoyable and I'm loving every minute of it. I can just go out and execute for my team."

Pollard's kicking struggles was well documented at the start of the Rugby Championship. He kicked two out of seven in the home match against Argentina in Durban, while he also missed a few vital ones in Mendoza.

However, he walked off the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium pitch with a 100-percent record against Australia, and said it was only a matter of time until he found his range following a bit of a break at the end of Super Rugby.

"I missed the [Bulls'] last Super Rugby game and there was a break for about four or five weeks [before playing again]. I think I just lost my rhythm a bit. I worked hard at it, and it didn't come back straight away, but thankfully the last couple of games have been a lot better," Pollard said.

"It just required some small tweaks, and I had to keep in mind that you're going to have your off days and that it happens to the best in the world. For now it feels good, and hopefully I can keep that going.

"I didn't work with a kicking coach or anything," he added. "I've worked with some kicking coaches at the beginning of my career, but as you go on, you know exactly what you're doing wrong when you're making mistakes. It's just about getting back into the routine and rhythm."

Pollard is coming up against All Black star Beauden Barrett, who has had some kicking struggles of his own this year, most notably in the All Blacks defeat by the Boks in Wellington last month.

While Barrett has received a lot of criticism for seemingly fluffing his kicks when under pressure, Pollard says they expect the All Blacks No 10 to be at his best at Loftus Versfeld.

"The best player in the world with 70-odd Test matches doesn't feel too much pressure. He's a confident guy and he might have also had a couple of off days in the past, I'm sure he'll be 100 percent. So we have to just make sure that we play as well as possible," Pollard added.