x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

South Africa and Scotland serve up youth

For South Africa and Scotland, Saturday’s one-off Test at Port Elizabeth is about seeing what lies beneath their usual pool of talent as they provide opportunities to younger players they hope will show international quality.

Handre Pollard is part of the youthful side South Africa's Heyneke Meyer has named to face and equally young Scotland. Marty Melville / AFP
Handre Pollard is part of the youthful side South Africa's Heyneke Meyer has named to face and equally young Scotland. Marty Melville / AFP

For South Africa and Scotland, Saturday’s one-off Test at Port Elizabeth is about seeing what lies beneath their usual pool of talent as they provide opportunities to younger players they hope will show international quality.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has drafted in IRB Junior Rugby Player of the Year Handre Pollard, a first cap for the highly rated fly-half who first caught the eye of the Bok coach at the age of 13.

After persuading Pollard to move north from Cape Town to Pretoria, Meyer plotted his path through the Bulls development system and now into the Bok jersey at age 20.

“Handre is a very talented player and has a big opportunity this week, but he’ll have [scrum-half] Fourie du Preez’s experience next to him, while he’s played a lot with [Bulls centre] Jan Serfontein before,” Meyer said.

Four more uncapped players sit on the bench for the Boks, Marcel van der Merwe (prop), Stephan Lewies (lock), Teboho “Oupa” Mohoje (loose forward) and Marnitz Boshoff (fly-half).

Mohoje, whose nickname is South African slang for “grandfather” but is just 23 years old, was playing for his university team earlier this year before injuries at the Cheetahs Super Rugby side afforded him an opportunity he has grabbed, delighting Meyer, who likes his loose-forwards big and powerful.

“I’m really excited by Oupa,” Meyer said. “I’ve said to him with his first camp [at Durban] that he will play against Scotland. He is big and strong, and is excellent in the line-outs.”

With 18 potential players on the injury-list and another seven having returned to their clubs in England and France, Meyer is getting to test his depth.

But there is certainly no feeling that he is scraping the barrel, rather, he hopes he is looking at the future of the South African game.

Scotland, too, have drafted in some 20-year-old talent in the form of Glasgow Warriors No 8 Adam Ashe, who last week was on scholarship in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“He is a talented player and the reports of his form in New Zealand have been very positive,” coach Vern Cotter told www.scottishrugby.org. “He’s trained well with us and looked sharp. He is a specialist No 8 and this is a golden opportunity for him.”

Scotland have also named uncapped South Africa-born forward Tyrone Holmes on the bench.

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Cook Islands aim to topple Fiji

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The Cook Islands, ranked 46th in world rugby and with only 500 registered players, will play the biggest match in its history on Saturday when they meet Fiji in a knockout qualifier for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

The winner of the match at Churchill Park in Lautoka, Fiji, will take a place in Pool A at next year’s cup alongside hosts England, Australia, Wales and a yet-to-be-decided team.

Fiji is ranked 11th and has played at all but one of the seven World Cups since the tournament began in 1987, reaching the quarter-finals on two occasions.

The home side can also call on professional players based around the world while the Cook Islands will depend on players who are mostly amateurs or part-time professionals.

Captain Stanley Wright, a prop based in France, is one of the Cook Islands’ few full-time professionals.

“Playing in a Rugby World Cup is every little boy’s dream and this is our chance to make our dream come true,” Wright said. “It’s now or never for the boys and we might not have this chance again so we will give it our best shot. We have never been in this situation before and it’s one game away from playing in the World Cup.”

The Cook Islands, who are just behind Switzerland in world rankings, reached the final qualifying match in the Oceania region by beating Papua New Guinea 37-31, the Solomon Islands 39-12 and Tahiti 38-5.

Fiji was forced to qualify after its early elimination at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.

- Associated Press

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