Nienaber: Springboks need Manie to do what Manie does best
Stormers flyhalf Manie Libbok has an opportunity to showcase his talent on the international stage this Saturday when South Africa faces France.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has named Libbok in the matchday 23, following last weekend’s 16-19 loss to Ireland.
Libbok, who has been a vital part of the Stormers’ United Rugby Championship success, will serve as cover for teammate Damian Willemse.
The 25-year-old Libbok was initially set to play for the SA ‘A’ team against Munster, in a midweek match in Ireland.
However following the goal-kicking struggles of Willemse and Cheslin Kolbe last weekend at Lansdowne Road Stadium in Dublin, the Springboks management was left with no choice but to include last season’s top points scorer in the URC to alleviate the goal-kicking concerns.
“The nice thing about Manie is this is his third week with us,” Nienaber said of Libbok, adding: “From my perspective, while looking at him running in the training sessions, he is a lot more comfortable in terms of running the show and getting used to the language, [and] what we do in certain parts of the field.
“He is getting nice and comfortable and we are confident that if he does get an opportunity he will be able to play his natural game.
“What I would like to see from him, and what the team needs from him, is for him to do what he does best and to play with the specific skill set that is available to him.
“So we are looking forward to seeing him in action and we are hoping that things pan out in a way that we can give him a run on the field.”
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Nienaber admits there is a growing goal-kicking issue.
To further add fuel to the hot topic of debate, there is the suggestion that the kicking duties will be handed to Kolbe – who took over from Willemse when the incumbent flyhalf misfired off the kicking tee last Saturday in Dublin.
Nienaber believes Kolbe is better suited to cope with the additional pressure of taking on the goal-kicking duties.
Kolbe kicked for his French club Toulouse when he played for them, before moving to Toulon.
Nienaber said ‘injuries’ have created the kicking conundrum and they are working on a solution.
“We started in 2018 with Handre [Pollard] and Elton [Jantjies] and they played the majority if not all the Test matches and we had our backup, a seasoned international that can play flyhalf, in Frans Steyn.
“Unfortunately, we are where we are – that not one of the three of them is available,” Nienaber said.
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“I don’t want to call Gazza [Willemse] our third choice because although he is only playing now his fourth Test at No.10, we all know the quality of the player.
“[Willemse] is a seasoned campaigner and has played 25 Tests or more for South Africa, but it is only the fourth time that he had to take over the goalkicking duties because in the past we always had other guys there.
“We are working on it as we always do. I mean, they measure the kicks in training, every single kick. We can tell you what the kicking percentage is in training but it’s a different thing to go into a Test match with the Springbok on your chest and you have to kick in front of 85,000 people and you know it is for your country.
“It’s a different kind of pressure and the only way they will get better is to play in that situation, to kick for goals in that situation.
“The players are taking it unbelievably seriously.
“The most senior international flyhalf that we have [who is available] is Damian Willemse.
“He is still getting into the No.10 position.
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The coach also added there is more to a Bok flyhalf than just his goal-kicking.
“If a flyhalf can kick for goal, that is awesome,” said Nienaber.
“But he must have a good attack, he must drive the forwards forward, he must drive the game for us.
“He must have an excellent defensive kicking game, he must spot space. If he is required to go ruck in a breakdown, he must also do that well.
“There are a lot of things that make a good flyhalf — goal-kicking is one of them. We are working incredibly hard at it.
“We know where we are in terms of that, know where we are in terms of having a seasoned flyhalf.
“Injury has dealt us with the hand that we have. The guys are training their socks off, trying and working hard to improve it, and I trust they will.”