Manie Libbok was replaced after just 30 minutes of the semi-final
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South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber has explained his controversial decision to sub off starting fly half Manie Libbok after just 30 minutes of the Springboks’ comeback Rugby World Cup semi-final win over England.
Libbok, who had emerged as South Africa’s first-choice No 10 in the lead-up to this tournament, was hooked after following a sliced clearance kick with a knock-on, capping a disastrous start to the game with England in the ascendancy.
He was replaced by Handre Pollard, a key cog in the 2019 World Cup-winning Springboks side, and the veteran helped engineer a fightback before kicking the winning penalty on 77 minutes to secure a narrow 16-15 triumph and a spot in next Saturday’s final.
Libbok is the more creative, dynamic fly half, while Pollard is the steadier option with a metronomic boot, and the move seemed to suggest South Africa were surrendering to England’s kick-heavy strategy and would attempt to beat them at their own game.
In his post-match press conference, Nienaber laid out the reasons behind the decision and was adamant that Libbok would accept why it happened.
“The beauty of this group is that we’re open and honest,” said Nienaber. “Because we have the right players, the players accept it.
“Sometimes things are not going your way. We’ve done it with numerous others. Bongi [Mbonambi] in 2018, we took him off after 35 minutes. That specific day he wasn’t on fire but then he started the next week.
“It’s the same with [Libbok] – we took him off early because things didn’t go his way. The main thing is that everything is for the team and they understand that. That’s the beauty of the squad, you’re open and honest and players take it on the chin.”
Handre Pollard went on to kick the winning penalty for South Africa
Nienaber went on to stress that even though an early substitution was not how Libbok would have liked his game to go, he is still an option to start the final against the All Blacks.
“It doesn’t mean he won’t start next week but sometimes, unfortunately, it is like that,” added Nienaber. “That’s how it is.
“It’s for South Africa – it’s not for the individual or the ego, it’s for South Africa. We get messages from schoolkids and we see every single message they send. It’s for them, we can’t put our egos in front of that, South Africa is more important and the Springboks are more important than anything else.”
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