Stormers head coach John Dobson says some “frank discussions” with Manie Libbok have helped the former Junior Springbok flyhalf settle in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship.
Libbok has played something of an understated role in helping the Stormers go unbeaten in the last four games, which has included wins over the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus Versfeld and the Sharks in Cape Town, his two former teams.
Since bursting on to the scene with the Junior Springboks, Libbok’s professional career has had its share of ups and downs.
After playing behind Handre Pollard at the Bulls, Libbok made the decision to move the Sharks when veteran Morne Steyn returned to Pretoria. However, his fortunes weren’t much better at Kings Park as he found himself playing behind Curwin Bosch, being utilised either at fullback or off the bench.
Libbok joined the Stormers on a three-year deal in September last year as the Cape side looked to boost their depth at flyhalf, which has been a traditional problem area for them.
While it hasn’t been all plain sailing – questions started being asked of Libbok’s temperament as recently as the draw with the Sharks in Durban – he this year started to show signs that he is growing into the role of the Stormers attack general.
“When he joined us, I told him from the outset: ‘You’re our flyhalf for the foreseeable future’,” Dobson said after the latest win over the Lions in Johannesburg.
“At his other franchises, Manie’s fortunes have been similar. He starts at flyhalf, shifts to fullback and then he’s out. We undeniably had some tough discussions, too, over the past month; Manie had a particularly painful game in Durban.
“We all agreed it wasn’t a great performance, but straight after the game we sat down and I told him he’s playing flyhalf again the next week.”
Playing alongside Springboks Warrick Gelant and Damian Willemse has also helped Libbok elevate his game.
“Being settled now at flyhalf has helped him a lot and the fact that he doesn’t have to worry about the back field is a major bonus. Playing with Warrick and Damian complements him,” Dobson added.
“He knows he can drop in the back field if that’s the way the play goes and doesn’t have to worry getting back up front when a guy like Warrick can play first receiver. That takes a lot of pressure off him.”