Springboks Libbok

South Africa’s flyhalf Manie Libbok kicks at goal. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Springboks: Pollard to start, Libbok on a 5-3 bench?

The Springboks have a big decision to make at flyhalf, but Handre Pollard’s return doesn’t have to result in the omission of Manie Libbok.

Springboks Libbok

South Africa’s flyhalf Manie Libbok kicks at goal. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The Springboks returned to field training at their Toulon training base on Tuesday after a day of recovery from a bruising defeat to Ireland, and the coaches have already addressed the likely return of Handre Pollard after the struggles of Manie Libbok from the kicking tee.

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South Africa will next face Tonga in a must-win match, and in a statement released on Sunday night, director of rugby Rassie Erasmus confirmed Pollard would receive game-time in that clash.

“Let’s give Handre a chance to find his rhythm and see how he does with the other stuff. Tonga will be a great yardstick to see how he goes.”

In all fairness, Libbok is already due for a rest, and it’s likely that he will be left out of the matchday 23 this week as the coaches take a closer look at Pollard to assess his fitness, match sharpness, and perhaps most importantly of all – his goalkicking form.

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If Pollard passes this test with flying colours, it’s almost certain that he will reclaim the No 10 jersey for the knockout stage of the competition, which would stand to reason considering those sort of playoff games can so often be decided by goal kicks.

Yet, it should be noted that this does not necessarily mean Libbok has to drop out of the matchday 23.

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There is a chance that the Springbok coaches could see value in adding Libbok to the bomb squad – allowing him to come off the bench to add impact value just as he did during three Tests on the 2022 end of year tour.

As a playmaker, the 26-year-old could certainly excel when the game has opened up, while there is even a chance that Pollard could then move to inside centre when Libbok does come on, with Damian de Allende either coming off or shifting to 13.

This is just one option to consider, but it may mean the Springboks need to then revert to a 5-3 forwards-to-backs split on the bench in order to accommodate an extra back.

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Perspective for Pollard and Libbok

Erasmus also called for matters to be kept in perspective, especially when it came to expectations for Pollard, and criticism for Libbok.

“Everyone must keep it in perspective,” said Erasmus. “Handre Pollard is not superman and can’t come back as fully ready after playing only 30 minutes of rugby since his injury.

“He can’t just come onto the field to kick goals, he must also be able to sidestep, hand-off, make tackles, clean out at the ruck and that’s obviously not the case now because he has only had a full week’s training with us. That’s why he wasn’t up for selection for the squad in the first place, but he is definitely up for selection this week.”

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‘Brilliant flyhalf rugby’

Meanwhile, Erasmus said he was happy with the play of Libbok, the Boks’ first choice flyhalf and goalkicker in 2023.

“Manie is definitely playing brilliant flyhalf rugby at this stage but obviously his goalkicking isn’t matching that,” said Erasmus.

“If you weigh up the different things he does, he makes a great contribution to the team, but he is in a bit of a dip with his goalkicking – he knows it, we know it and the world knows it.”

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