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Springboks explain keeping Willemse at No10, not promoting Libbok

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber has explained why he ignored the temptation to give rookie Manie Libbok his first Test career start this weekend in London, South Africa instead opting to retain Damian Willemse as their No10 for the fourth successive European tour match.

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With Handre Pollard injured in August during The Rugby Championship defeat to Australia and Elton Jantjies unavailable since he was sent home from Buenos Aires the following month, the Springboks’ retention of full-back/inside centre Willemse as their No10 to take on England means they have selected him as their starting fly-half in six of their seven most recent games.

The only game he missed was the round six match at home to Argentina in Durban due to a concussion suffered the previous week in the away fixture, an injury that resulted in the recall of Frans Steyn to start.

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Since coming on tour, though, the Springboks have invested in rookie Libbok, who debuted off the bench near the end of the defeat to France in Marseille before getting a longer run as a replacement versus Italy in Genoa last Saturday.

However, the Springboks have opted not to throw the Stormers’ URC title-winning fly-half in off the deep end by starting him away to England. Their decision was instead to keep Willemse – another Stormers player – at No10 even though he himself is only learning the ropes as a Test fly-half having usually been selected at full-back or centre before Pollard and Jantjies were ruled out.

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“Listen, Manie is going from strength to strength in the squad,” said Nienaber when asked why the Springboks had chosen not to give Libbok, a regular club-level fly-half, the opportunity to wear the No10 shirt for the first time at Test level. “He has only been with us for eight weeks and you can see he is taking more ownership in terms of the rugby stuff and onfield, off-field, and we are really excited to see what he can do at Twickenham and the games getting bigger and bigger and bigger and more pressure.

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“I don’t know how the ticket sales went but I think there will be a fair amount of people at Twickenham and it will be similar to what we experienced in Marseille. It is good for his development and it’s nice to have him with us.

“Were we tempted? I think Damian is doing well at ten and he is driving the team forward, and again  I would say only after five Test matches this year did he start starting at ten. He is also getting experience playing at ten. We know he can do it for us at twelve and at 15, so it is nice to have the two of them.”

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