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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

With Handre Pollard injured again, surely the Springboks can’t ignore Manie Libbok

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Cape Town — There is simply no way Manie Libbok can be ignored with the Springboks’ End-of-Year Tour looming.

The Stormers flyhalf scored 14 points against Edinburgh at the weekend with a flawless performance off the tee, including a 40-metre penalty in the second half.

But that wasn’t all.

He also set up the defending United Rugby Champions’ bonus-point try in scintillating style as he stepped and swerved his way around the Cape Town Stadium after the hooter to cap a superb performance in their second URC game of the season.

On the URC scene last season, the 25-year-old was impossible to ignore, and the Boks’ current flyhalf dilemma would make doing so, now, criminal.

Handre Pollard, Bok flyhalf incumbent, spent a chunk of last season either injured or on duty for his former club, Montpellier.

But apart from that, Pollard’s form over the last two seasons hasn’t done much to still have him sitting cushy on the South African pivot throne.

Besides his way below-par efforts off the tee in a good few Tests, overall authority in the driving seat has also been lacking. And he hasn’t done much to drastically change that. There has been too much rattle in his game.

That in itself is a major concern for the reigning world champions, and an exacerbating factor is of course his latest injury.

Making his return from injury in his debut for Leicester Tigers, he limped off after just 27 minutes of action and is expected to spend a significant time on the sidelines.

That alone should be put an exclamation mark behind Libbok’s name.

Currently, only Pollard and Elton Jantjies are considered out-and-out flyhalves in the Bok frame, with Damian Willemse and veteran Frans Steyn utility backs.

Whether Johan Goosen, who’s name has enjoyed good air time in terms of the Bok group, becomes a real part of the group or not, Libbok has to be there.

Despite Jantjies erratic performances in the Green and Gold, he has also delivered the goods, but there has still been no real answer from the Bok coaching staff over his future involvement with the team.

Libbok, for these reasons, is a must for the Boks with less than one year to go to the Cup.

But he is far from a mere stop-gap option.

Since settling with the Cape unit, Libbok has not only brought hope of answering the Stormers’ long lingering questions at 10, but he was instrumental in their remarkable URC success.

The Stormers’ attacking game flourished, with the potent 10-12-15 combo of Libbok, Willemse and Warrick Gelant at the very core of that growth, but with his individual abilities alone he is worthy of automatic entry into the Bok squad.

From the way he attacks the line and the constant threat he poses to opposition defences, to the game-management boxes he has also ticked more and more, Libbok has got it all. His pace, acceleration and overall X-factor and game-breaking abilities are just an attractive bonus.

The only concern – if you can call it that – in terms of Libbok in the Bok set-up is their style of play. He’s not the kind of player that would be an ideal fit in the Boks’ ‘traditional’ game, but that doesn’t have to be a con.

The world champions have made good strides in employing a more attacking brand, with some beautiful interplay and their backs being put to use having been one of the big positives recently.

And, if that continues to be a focus point, that should only strengthen the case for Libbok even more.

Willemse has been immense for the Boks, and while I still feel that he can have a real future with the Boks at flyhalf, there is solid reason to believe that his future in the Green and Gold will be at fullback.

With so many questions relating to the Bok flyhalf situation, there can be no harm in considering Libbok as an answer.



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