RUGBY: Manie’s the man – Bok flyhalf has a chance to join the game’s heroes

RUGBY: Manie’s the man – Bok flyhalf has a chance to join the game’s heroes

The nature of rugby, and the very skills-specific requirements of each position, has always meant that the man in the No 10 jersey is a vital cog in the machine. Flyhalves haven’t always been the primary goal-kickers, but there is little doubt that the athlete operating in the first receiver channel dictates terms more than any other player.

Manie Libbok is now in the hot seat and much of South Africa’s success will depend on his health, form and big-match temperament. There is no getting around it because the position compels it.

Handré Pollard, who serenely guided the Boks to an unlikely Rugby World Cup 2019 title in Japan, was not named in the 33-man squad to defend the title.

A torn calf muscle did not heal as quickly as hoped. Pollard might be fit by the time the tournament kicks off on 8 September. But, barring an unforeseen setback, he is most certainly set to be match ready by the time the knockout stages start on 14 October.

But Bok coach Jacques Nienaber didn’t feel he could name Pollard in the squad when he revealed the 33 names on 8 August. There were just too many variables at play and, to a degree, there still are, even though Pollard’s big-match temperament is not easily replaced or replicated.

He top scored at RWC 2019 with 69 points, landing 16 penalties in the process. He is South Africa’s all-time leading RWC scorer with 162 points in 13 matches.

Crucially, in the semifinal and final in Japan, he landed 13 of 15 kicks at goal, notching up 36 points in the two biggest matches of the tournament. Under the most pressure, Pollard delivered.

His only misses were a sitter in the second minute of the final and a 59m effort later in the game. That one was always out of his range, but was a tactical kick to keep England pinned back deep inside their territory.

An 87% accuracy from the kicking tee in two of the most high-pressure games imaginable, which included a tough, late match-­winning penalty over Wales in the semifinal, is what it takes to win a World Cup.

But it wasn’t only his kicking that impressed. Pollard’s rock-solid defence at flyhalf and his ability to carry into contact and attack the gainline were also crucial.

Manie's time to shine.

Manie Libbok jumps for the ball during a Test match against Argentina’s Pumas at Jose Amalfitani Stadium in Buenos Aires on 5 August 2023. (Photo: Marcelo Endelli / Getty Images)

Manie time

Libbok is an excellent flyhalf, who has made seven appearances for the Boks since his debut last November. He has shown he is comfortable making the step up to Test rugby. His ability and talent are not in question.

But what is under scrutiny is that Libbok is the only recognised fit flyhalf in the squad. Damian Willemse is the backup plan at this stage and others such as Faf de Klerk or Cheslin Kolbe cou

…. to be continued
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