Sexton backs Boks’ battling Libbok

24 September 2023 - 13:40
By Liam Del Carme in Paris
The Spingboks' Marco van Staden and Manie Libbok leave the field after their Rugby World Cup pool B match against Ireland at Stade de France on Saturday.
Image: Steve Haag/Gallo Images The Spingboks' Marco van Staden and Manie Libbok leave the field after their Rugby World Cup pool B match against Ireland at Stade de France on Saturday.

There was praise and perhaps encouragement for Manie Libbok from an unlikely source in the immediate aftermath of the Springboks' 13-8 defeat to Ireland in Paris on Saturday evening.

Johnny Sexton, Ireland's at times irascible captain, is not known for heaping praise on a South African's performance after a big game but he had words of comfort after Libbok's less than convincing goal-kicking continued at the Stade de France.

Libbok landed an early penalty but missed the conversion of Cheslin Kolbe's try as well as a penalty. Bok frustration deepened when scrumhalf Faf de Klerk also missed two long range attempts.

“Manie did some outstanding things,” Sexton reminded. “He set up that try and he's a handful with the ball. He's got tricks and stuff like that.

“Every kicker goes through a period like that in their career. I definitely went through the same during a World Cup in 2011. It's tough but you get stronger on the back of it.

“When you do come out the other side you're a better kicker for it. There isn't a kicker in the world who has not gone through a period like that.”

While Libbok has been a superb goal kicker for the Stormers his strike rate for the Boks is less convincing. Libbok appears troubled by the shot clock that potentially times out the kicker that takes too long to kick.

Though loath to lay blame for the defeat solely at Libbok's door, Bok coach Jacques Nienaber said they will have to find answers.

“We missed a couple of points off the tee but I won't say that is the reason solely for not getting across the line.

“In the first half alone we lost two balls close to the try line. And we lost opportunities to get points off the tee, so I won't say it is only goal kicking.

“I know you guys will probably say that, but there were opportunities we didn't use.”

Handré Pollard is now in the Bok team after missing initial selection. He will no doubt see game time against Tonga as he is restored to the level required to play for the Boks.

Whether that and the 30 minutes he had for Leicester since returning from injury will be enough to earn him a spot in the quarterfinals remains to be seen.

The first hurdle however is Tonga.

“That is something we'll have to sit down and discuss when it comes to team selections. We'll probably get the medical status between 24 and 48 hours. We'll go though our team selection and it will be a process as per normal.”

Nienaber was asked how the Boks determine whether they should go for poles.

“I think in all teams if your kicker is confident and the captain has asked the question then he should take the kick at goal.

“Faf was confident from the halfway line. He was kicking it good in the warm-up. He unfortunately hit the post.”

While Libbok's credentials will be eagerly discussed over the next few days, Sexton pointed to the qualities that made him a Bok in the first place.

“He's an outstanding player and has added a new dimension to their game. He'll come out better on the other side.”