Jacques Nienaber says that Manie Libbok understands why he was substituted in the first half of the Springboks’ World Cup semi-final win and “will take it on the chin”.
Libbok lasted just 30 minutes after retaining the No 10 jersey as the Springboks named an unchanged side from the team that snatched a quarter-final win over tournament hosts France.
The flyhalf struggled in wet and rainy conditions as a streetsmart England dominated the Bok pack for large parts of Saturday night’s semi-final and was eventually withdrawn from the contest on the half-hour mark.
His replacement, Handre Pollard, proved to be a match-winner, as he held his nerve to kick a late long-range penalty for the second successive playoff, after doing the same against Les Bleus.
However, speaking after the match, Bok coach Nienaber said the call to hook Libbok early won’t affect his chances of starting in the World Cup final against New Zealand.
“The beauty of this group is we are open and honest, and because we have the right players, the players accept it,” Nienaber said. “Sometimes things aren’t going your way. We did it with Bongi [Mbonambi] in 2018. We took him off. For that specific day, he just was not on fire but he started the next week again.
“The main thing is everything is for the team and they understand that. Players take it on the chin. It doesn’t mean he [Libbok] won’t start next week. We didn’t miss a kick at goal tonight, every single opportunity we utilised, with him and Handre. That is how it is. It is for South Africa, not for the individual, not for the ego.
“We get messages and we see every single message that gets sent to us. It is for them. The Springboks are more important than anything else.”
Libbok swallowed his pride and credited his teammates for fighting back from a nine-point deficit in the second half.
“It is always a team effort,” he said. “I am just stoked for what the guys did tonight. It was something special. I am just proud of the guys for sticking in there.
“I am stoked for the guys coming off the bench and lifting the tempo of the game.”
Nienaber hailed Pollard’s kicking to help turn the game in South Africa’s favour, which included an incredible touch-finder from a penalty in the build-up to RG Snyman’s 70th-minute try.
“We struggled to get a foothold in the game and get things going. Like the 2019 World Cup quarter-final and semi-final, you need a 60-metre maul, something special to break the game open, and I think the touch kick that set us up for the try [was it].
“In this weather and these conditions, to score a try against England that has an unbelievable defence, and this is their first loss in the tournament, was special. And then there was big pressure on nailing that last kick for the win.”
Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP