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Friday, January 27, 2023

Should Stormers pick Manie Libbok, or give Kade Wolhuter another start against Dragons?

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Cape Town – Manie Libbok has been at the heart of the Stormers’ revival over the last 15 months, and it has led to him becoming a Springbok as well.

And the impressive display he produced in the second half against Italy in Genoa a few weeks ago underlined his class, and proved to Bok coach Jacques Nienaber that he is ready for the biggest stage of them all.

In fact, Libbok may have warranted a start in the No 10 jersey against England last week, in order for him to be properly evaluated at Test level, and to give Damian Willemse a breather.

But Nienaber stuck with the latter at Twickenham, and the 24-year-old playmaker contributed handsomely to the 27-13 triumph.

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Willemse is likely to get his break this week and sit out the Stormers’ United Rugby Championship clash against the Dragons at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday (2pm kick-off) – along with props Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe.

But Libbok and other Bok squad members such as Marvin Orie, Salmaan Moerat and Deon Fourie are likely to be in the mix in Gqeberha.

Forwards coach Rito Hlungwani said this week that the reintroduction of the Boks would be considered on a case-by-case basis, with head coach John Dobson scheduled to announce his side on Friday morning.

When you look at what’s ahead for the Cape side, though, Dobson might be better off keeping Libbok and Orie in cotton wool for a week at least.

South Africa’s first foray into the Champions Cup – the ultimate club competition in the rugby world – begins next Saturday, with the Stormers travelling to France to face Clermont Auvergne (5.15pm kick-off), who can count Bok stalwarts John Smit and Breyton Paulse among their former players.

On the same day, the Sharks will host Harlequins from England in Durban (3pm), while the Bulls will take on French club Lyon at Loftus Versfeld (7.30pm).

With the URC title already in the bag from last season, the Stormers have bigger fish to fry in the Champions Cup. They need to field their strongest possible line-up against Clermont, and one way of ensuring that is achieved is by resting Libbok and Orie entirely against the Dragons on Saturday.

They have been involved in the last two Bok Tests, and travelled back from London and only arrived in Cape Town on Monday.

Libbok and Orie are two key protagonists for Dobson’s side as the chief playmaker and line-out technician respectively, and putting their feet up this weekend before the journey to France would be a smart move.

Dobson spoke at length last week about also developing the entire Stormers squad, which is why he was keen to see how a number of fringe players would perform against the Scarlets at Cape Town Stadium last Friday.

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The fact that the Stormers pulled off a 36-19 victory was proof that the selection strategy had paid off, so that should continue to be the policy this week.

Kade Wolhuter was a prodigious junior talent who was struck down by injury for a couple of years, but the way in which he marshalled the Stormers backline at flyhalf against the Scarlets was highly promising.

He also slotted five out of six kicks at goal, and that must give Dobson confidence that the youngster should be retained at No 10 this week instead of calling on Libbok.

That should apply to last week’s debutant No 5 lock Gary Porter too with regards to Orie, as he will have the support of experienced campaigners in Moerat and Fourie in Gqeberha as well.

@ashfakmohamed

IOL Sport

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