Breaking down the Springbok door: Stormers star Manie LibBOK makes strong World Cup case

Breaking down the Springbok door: Stormers star Manie LibBOK makes strong World Cup case
Breaking down the Springbok door: Stormers star Manie LibBOK makes strong World Cup case

Africa-Press – South-Africa. Manie Libbok. The clue is in the name.

Another crunch match, another stellar performance from the Stormers flyhalf. Another emphatic reminder that he is, without doubt, Test match material.

If there was a proverbial selection door to be knocked down, Libbok has smashed it to pieces, and his man-of-the match showing in the Stormers’ 43-25 win over Connacht in Saturday’s URC semi-final at Cape Town Stadium will only amplify the noise surrounding his Springbok credentials.

“I think he’s a phenomenal player, and it would be wrong for him not to be pushing for that South African No 10 jersey.”

Those were not the words of one of Libbok’s Stormers team-mates or his coach, John Dobson, after Saturday’s pulsating knockout clash in front of 47 000.

Instead, it was the view of Libbok’s opposite number, Connacht captain and flyhalf Jack Carty.

“He’s an incredible player. You never know what he’s going to do. You think he’s going to pass, and then he’ll do a chip over the top. He kicks off both feet and is a brilliant goal-kicker,” Carty continued.

“He’s a joy to watch in terms of his range of skills and how he leads his forwards pack around. Unfortunately for us, he had a good game today.”

Because he is smaller and far more naturally expansive than a traditional South African flyhalf, Libbok is often pigeonholed as not having the right blend of skills – kicking, defence and more kicking – required of a Springbok No 10.

His performance against Munster back on 15 April in Cape Town was not his best. He was erratic off the tee in a game the Stormers only lost by two points, and in the aftermath, many commentators used that showing as an example of why Libbok should not be considered a realistic starting option for the Boks in their 2023 World Cup title defence in France later this year.

This, despite his being excellent for the Stormers in all departments for two straight seasons. Libbok was the leading points scorer in last year’s competition, and he will win that accolade again in 2022/23.

“That performance against Munster was tough, especially kicking at goal,” Libbok said on Saturday.

“That kind of game builds your character. I take a lot of learnings out of games like that because they remind you that there is still a lot to work to improve on.

“You go back and put the work in.

“I got my confidence back again for the Benetton game (the next weekend) and then the Bulls game (quarter-final), and I just put my head down and keep working on my craft so I can be in the best possible position to perform on the weekend.”

There was a moment early in Saturday’s game, too, where Libbok looked up a fraction too early and dropped a routine ball on his own try line, placing the Stormers under immense pressure.

But the pivot, as Dobson has said numerous times, has a unique ability to move on from bad moments immediately.

“It was my fault, but after that, I put it behind me,” he said.

“Rugby is a game of 80 minutes; it’s not about one moment. There are a lot of moments in a game to get that confidence back, so it’s just about focusing on the next one and trying to influence it positively.”

‘I’m loving it here’

There is a maturity about Libbok that one might not associate with a 25-year-old. He has, however, been on the professional scene for a long time and is well-travelled after starting his career with the Bulls in 2016 before a short stint at the Sharks over 2020 and 2021 brought nothing much more than frustration.

Now, at his new home, he is thriving.

By the time he was done on Saturday, Libbok had scored two tries and had a personal haul of 23 points. His distribution is crisp and accurate, he identifies attacking space instinctively, and when he is on song, he is the driving force behind the enterprising brand of rugby the Stormers are mastering with every outing.

When he is in this kind of form – and he has been for some time – then Libbok is impossible to ignore, and he should surely add to his three Tests when the Boks play in a shortened Rugby Championship in July.

“I’m just happy I’ve got the opportunity to play,” said Libbok.

“That’s what I always wanted. I wanted to play. I’m just grateful that Dobbo [Dobson] and the Stormers gave me that opportunity and backed me. That has paid off, and playing week in and week out has helped me build my confidence.

“I’m very happy with where I am at the current stage of my career. I’m loving it here, and the guys – Kitshie [Steven Kitshoff] and the forwards – lay the foundation for me to do my thing. Them doing their job makes my job easier.

“I’m just enjoying my rugby now.”

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