COMMENT: Why Manie Libbok must retain Springboks’ No 10 jersey ahead of Handre Pollard

Springboks flyhalf Manie Libbok, left, in action during the Rugby World Cuo. Picture: Clement Mahoudeau/AFP

Springboks flyhalf Manie Libbok, left, in action during the Rugby World Cuo. Picture: Clement Mahoudeau/AFP

Published Oct 4, 2023


When Manie Libbok lined up his first conversion of the night against Tonga, he would have felt the world was on his shoulders.

With the arrival of Handre Pollard in the squad and a difficult night with the boot against Ireland, some critics and Springbok fans on social media were calling for Libbok’s head.

They wanted Pollard reinstated in the No 10 jersey for the Rugby World Cup quarter-final, provided he came through the Tonga game unscathed – which he did. The 2019 champion pivot produced an assured outing, slotting four out of four goal-kicks, calling the shots in organising the backline and making his tackles in defence.

It wasn’t an out-of-this world display but it was as good as could be expected from the 29-year-old as he had just a 30-minute cameo for Leicester Tigers under his belt, after recovering from a calf injury that kept him out of the initial 33-player squad.

Last chance saloon

So, Libbok may have felt that it was a “last chance saloon” for him to prove his worth and hold onto the Bok flyhalf berth when replacing Pollard on the 50-minute mark against Tonga. But the Stormers star showcased his trademark cool temperament, and with 58 minutes and 29 seconds on the clock, he booted the conversion of Willie le Roux’s try – which was about three metres in from the left-hand touchline – “over the middle of the crossbar”, as SuperSport commentator Matthew Pearce stated so cheerfully.

Then a few minutes later, Libbok had a similar kick from the right and banged it through the uprights as well – and went on to goal another conversion later on. But what is of even greater significance in Libbok’s make-up is his ability to spark the Bok attack.

The 26-year-old just has that natural ability to create space and put his backline away with his array of long and short passes, offloads in the tackle, cross-kicks, up-and-unders, touch-kicks – with the left boot too – and uses his pace to take on the defence as well.

He is the ultimate “triple threat” that all sports players try to be, bringing that “razzle-dazzle” to the Bok backline. And it’s not only from set-plays that he is able to conjure up something special.

Once such instance against Tonga saw Libbok fielding a kick from Charles Piutau on the Bok 22 and after initially shaping to boot the ball with his left foot, he changed plans and motored forward to dance past a hooker and then offload to Grant Williams.

The Bok right wing returned the favour with a burst of speed and offload, but the ball just eluded Libbok and Andre Esterhuizen.

Libbok also delivered some tasty long passes that brought great width to the South African attack and it is something he has done throughout his Test career. SA Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus also acknowledged the special attributes Libbok brings to the Bok set-up, saying on Monday in addressing the goal-kicking issue: “But tries also win games and the way we play is to try and score tries.

‘Money-man Manie’

“I really think we have been attacking much better, like the country has asked us to do and the supporters are always wanting us to be more creative and not just have this kicking game ... Manie brings that to us.

“It would be nice to have him on the park for that general play and if he is on song and fantastic with his kicking but somebody else who can back him up if he does have a bad day (helps).”

For the expected SA-France quarter-final, that “back-up” should be Pollard, with Libbok in the No 10 jersey.

And it was a nice touch from Pollard’s wife Marise to post a pic on Instagram with her husband alongside Libbok and his fiancee Verna-Lee Arries after the Tonga match, as if to entrench the Bok motto of “Stronger Together”.