Johannesburg — Manie Libbok or Damian Willemse? That was the question many mulled over these past few days regarding who should start at flyhalf against England at Twickenham, and on Tuesday Springbok mentor Jacques Nienaber answered it with consistency, opting to keep Willemse at pivot.
Libbok will earn his third Test cap off the bench on Saturday (kick-off 7.30pm) but such was his impact during his previous outings — especially against Italy, where he impressed with some slick handling and passing — that many pundits and supporters would have been equally pleased to see him in the No 10 jumper this weekend.
Nienamber was arguably one of them, and during the Bok team announcement he revealed that he has been quite taken by the 25-year-old these past two months.
“Manie is going from strength-to-strength in the squad,” Nienaber admitted.
“He has been with us for about eight weeks and you can see how he has taken more ownership in terms of the rugby stuff — on the field and off it. We are really excited to see what he can do at Twickenham.
“The games are getting bigger and bigger and there will be more pressure … It will be similar to what we experienced in Marseille (against France earlier this month). It is good for his development and it is nice to have him with us.”
“Where we tempted?” the coach asked rhetorically, regarding starting Libbok.
“Ja, look, I think Damian is doing well and he is driving the team forward. He only started after about five Test matches this year to settle in at 10.
“He is getting lekker experience playing at 10. We know he can do it for us at 12 and at 15. It is nice to have the two of them.”
The Bok backline purred last week against Italy on attack, and while Willemse and Libbok played their part, the sometimes, unfairly, maligned Wille le Roux was just as important in generating front-toot ball. The fullback has slotted effortlessly in as first receiver at times, distributing the ball to his teammates with accuracy and some brilliant flat-ball passing.
The clash against the English is expected to be tighter, but if the Boks can tap into even a thimbleful of the attacking play they unleashed this past weekend, it will be due to the triumvirate of Willemse, Le Roux and Libbok.
Perhaps Le Roux, who will start in the No 15 jersey, is enjoying his new role thanks to the the back-up he is receiving from new Boks Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie — both are in the matchday 23 to face England; and both are solid under the high-ball and dangerous on the counter.
It has certainly opened the Boks up to a world of possibilities. Whether they remain committed in taking those chances, remains to be seen.