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Sunday, July 21, 2024

COMMENT: Stop the Damian Willemse at 10 experiment and give Manie Libbok the minutes

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It’s time for the Springbok management to back Manie Libbok in the flyhalf jersey and let go of the idea of playing his Stormers teammate Damian Willemse at 10, but rather as the fullback.

The clash against New Zealand in Auckland showed again why it’s necessary to have a recognised 10 in the starting line-up and someone who’s been playing in that role for a whole season whether at a club or franchise level.

Libbok was sublime against Australia and ran the show as the pivot, interlinking excellently with fullback Willie le Roux and scrumhalf Cobus Reinach, who supplied the flyhalf with quick ball possession on the attack.

Willemse mainly played as a fullback for the Stormers this year and was thrown into the deep end against the All Blacks. And it was evident on Saturday that he hasn’t spent time at 10 in a couple of months.

He was shut down very quickly and struggled to create space on the outside. It didn’t help his performance that the Boks struggled for possession in the first 20 minutes of the match and were on the back foot.

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But it’s clear that at Springbok level, Willemse should rather be selected at 15 as that is where he has played some of his best rugby for the side. It has not been smooth sailing for the talented utility back when he stepped into the Bok number 10-jersey, though.

It also poses question marks when he is the starting flyhalf, but hardly does the kicking for the side. He kicked some punts to touch, but that task was divided between him, Le Roux, and Faf de Klerk. The kicking to poles was split between De Klerk and winger Cheslin Kolbe until Libbok eventually entered the fray.

Why play a flyhalf who does not handle your kicking – the main priority of a 10?

Hopefully, with this experiment against the All Blacks, the Bok management found the answer to the above question and Willemse will shift to the back three over the next couple of tests ahead of France 2023 to build some confidence in a set position.

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It will be good to have him as the backup to Libbok and Pollard for emergencies only, but he has been way more effective at fullback for the Boks, and it’s time he becomes the one to guard the final position.

Think how potent the backline will be if it’s a back-three of Willemse, Kolbe, and Kurt-Lee Arendse being fed by Libbok and the likes of Lukhanyo Am on the attack.

And you have the recognised boot of Libbok for points.

Libbok needs the international time at flyhalf, he’s been growing game by game, and the pressure of test rugby can only shape him further as he builds towards World Cup selection.

Once Pollard returns from injury, the Boks will have two flyhalves primed to play, and Willemse settled at fullback but ready to slot in as a backup in case of an emergency.


IOL Sport

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