Cape Town — Manie Libbok said he “almost” slept with his Springbok jersey on Saturday night, such was his excitement at finally making his Test debut.
The Stormers playmaker has had to be patient all year long to make his first appearance at the highest level, and when the moment arrived in Marseille last weekend, the stakes were extremely high.
The Boks were trailing 27-26 with five minutes to go, and Libbok replaced Jesse Kriel, which saw Damian Willemse move out to centre.
France fullback Thomas Ramos slotted his sixth penalty soon after that, and the Boks had to find a way to claim the ball back at the final kick-off to have any chance of scoring a try to win the game.
Enter Libbok, who produced a superb short drop-kick which was hunted down by a charging Willemse, who clinched possession and allowed the South Africans the opportunity to have a go.
Libbok got the ball away down the line and Makazole Mapimpi was tackled, but somehow, referee Wayne Barnes failed to penalise French wing Yoram Moefana for playing the ball from an offside position at the ruck — and Les Bleus ran down the clock to secure the victory.
“That was the plan, as we had to get the ball back. I was just happy that I could execute that kick, and it was a good chase from Damian,” Libbok said from Genoa on Wednesday, where the Boks are preparing for Saturday’s clash against Italy (3pm kick-off).
“It was a very special moment for me — one of the biggest moments in my life so far. I am just grateful that I was able to go onto the field and play for the Springboks. It’s a dream come true.
“It was great to get onto the field and get a taste of Test rugby, especially against a quality side like France.
“It’s something I dreamt of since being a little kid. To be honest, I was so energetic that I just wanted to get the ball in my hands and play. If I could’ve run from the kick-off with the ball, I would’ve (done that)! I was very excited — emotional, but excited at the same time. It was a very special moment for me.
“I almost slept in it (his jersey)! But before the game on Friday, I took in a big moment to look at my jersey, just to take everything in.”
The 25-year-old from Humansdorp in the Eastern Cape also paid tribute to Stormers coach John Dobson for believing in him, after he had difficult stints at the Bulls and Sharks previously — having been a Junior Springbok star.
“Personally, to have the backing of Coach Dobson, and play what’s in front of me, also helped me a lot,” Libbok said.
“I’m just grateful for him, for bringing me to the Stormers and giving me the opportunity to play — and backing me. That helped me a lot in my game, and how I could develop week-in and week-out in my game, and my confidence as well … He is a good man, and I am just grateful for what he did for me.”
But now the Azzurri lie in wait, and Libbok will hope to get more than just five minutes off the bench at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris on Saturday, as he is one of only two backline reserves, along with Cobus Reinach.
“I am just glad I can cover at 15, 13, inside centre, so I am grateful for that. Wherever the team need me, I am ready to go. It’s a huge honour and privilege every time I wear that jersey,” he said.
“That (ball-in-hand approach) was the plan for us last week against France. We knew that the opportunities would be there for us, and the guys were excited about that, and executed that well. It was nice for me to see that.
“Italy are very much the same in terms of tactics, but we have our plans — whatever they may throw at us — and we have prepared well for that.”