Rugby may be a team sport, but there are always some individual duels that attract attention as well.
Manie Libbok’s fly-half display against Johnny Sexton will undoubtedly make rugby fans sit up when South Africa take on Ireland at the Stade de France this weekend.
In one corner you have a rising star who is exhibiting his magic skills with increasing confidence on the international stage.
Opposite him an old steed takes position; a player who has seen most things happen on a rugby field, but has not yet experienced for himself: His beloved Ireland repeatedly underperforms at a World Cup tournament and never really advances beyond the quarter-finals.
However, both players could play a crucial role in their team’s success – or not – in Saint-Denis.
“Johnny is an excellent player and he has done great things for Ireland over the years. I myself try to prepare as well as possible and it promises to be a nice challenge. We are playing against the best team in the world and it could be a huge game for all of us,” said Libbok.
The 26-year-old Humansdorp native had earlier delivered a flawless kicking performance in a tie breaker against New Zealand at Twickenham, but struggled ever so slightly with his kicking accuracy in the Boks’ opening game against Scotland.
Although his set-piece duties were later taken over by Faf de Klerk, his attacking flair and creative play still earned him the player of the match award.
“Against Ireland, every facet of my game will be important: From set-piece work to my general kicking and play. I worked very hard on my basic skills on the rugby field to ensure that everything went well.”
Handré Pollard was approached in place of the injured Malcolm Marx and he joined the team in Paris on Monday.
The 29-year-old player has previously won World Cup matches with his kicking boot and he can become an important Springbok link in the play-offs.
But Libbok’s flair is sure to attract the attention of other teams.
Mike Catt is Ireland’s assistant coach these days and the South African-born player admitted that the Springboks are a horse of a different color with Libbok in the group.
“The Boks are currently playing exciting rugby; it’s a good mix of physical play and direct rugby. With Manie Libbok at 10 and Damian Willemse at 15, the ball also moves more through their players’ hands and they certainly cause loads of problems,” said the former England full-back.