The light will shine on the No 10s when Ireland plays South Africa in the World Cup in Paris tomorrow night – and it will be a battle of generations, with Ireland’s departing veteran Johnny Sexton wanting one last hurrah and South Africa’s Manie Libbok wanting to show he can produce the cherished hurrah on the biggest of stages.
Sexton, an icon of Leinster, became Ireland’s leading points scorer a week ago. He has been an incredible servant of Leinster and Ireland, and his rugby story is that all good things come to those prepared to wait.
Sexton, in his early career, knew heartbreak for Leinster and Ireland but in the past five years, he has been at the forefront of some of Leinster and Ireland’s finest triumphs.
If Sexton is the old bull, measured and meticulous in his approach, then Libbok is the charging young bull, impulsive and extravagant.
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Both are supremely talented, with Sexton having produced for more than a decade at international level. Libbok’s international career is in its infancy, but Saturday night shapes as a graduation for the South African.
A thriving Libbok translates to a player who has arrived in Test rugby. Sexton has nothing to prove; Libbok, the DHL Stormers and Springboks No 10, has it all to do.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber and Bok captain Siya Kolisi have no doubt Libbok will silence critics. If the Bok coach had any doubt, Libbok would not be starting.
Stormers coach John Dobson is as bullish of his play-making general.
“It is not about Manie needing to come good because he has already come good. He has been outstanding for the Springboks and it hasn’t surprised me. I have always rated his natural ability with the ball in hand, which is why I contracted him,” says Dobson.
“For me, it was about identifying Manie’s strengths, creating a playing environment that speaks to those strengths and picking players on his inside and outside that can complement those strengths.”
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Dobson also doesn’t agree with those who doubt Libbok’s ability to convert five pointers into seven pointers and penalties into three points.
“You don’t end two successive Vodacom URC seasons as the leading points scorer if you can’t kick at posts,” adds Dobson. “Manie can kick, and he has produced some big clutch kicks in the past two URC campaigns. Think back to the injury time touchline conversion in Cape Town against Ulster to win us the semi-final in the 2021/22 season.
“He has had matches in which the radar hasn’t been there, but which goalkicker hasn’t? It doesn’t matter how prolific a goalkicker, I have seen the very best have off-days.
“For me, Libbok is so much more than just a goalkicker and his performance must be seen in this light. He brings so much to any attack. His passing ability gets the best out of his outside backs and his line kicking lacks for nothing.
“The more he plays at Test level, the more he will find consistency to his game and with experience comes a certain maturity.”
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Dobson earlier this week also spoke of Libbok’s work ethic and remarkable ability to play the moment and be in the moment.
“He is one of those rare players, who can make a mistake and just get on with it in the next play. He doesn’t allow his mind to linger on an error. Equally, the good moment is just that moment.
“The nature of his game is that to create those moments of brilliance, there is always the risk that a pass doesn’t come off, or break leads to isolation and a turnover. When you pick Manie, you know that reward will always come with risk, but he is a player who gives so much in reward.
“His desire to succeed is strong and what the public won’t see is how many balls he kicks with our [Stormers] kicking coach Gareth Wright after training. That duo is the last to leave the field and it is usually on insistence that the training facility needs to be locked.
“I think his battle with Johnny Sexton is going to be a career highlight for Manie, and he will be stronger mentally for the experience.”
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