Champions Cup: Stormers ready to test fly-half depth in Manie Libbok’s absence

Dylan Coetzee
Champions Cup: Stormers fly-half: Split with Damian Willemse and Sacha Feinburg-Mngomezulu. The pontential replacements for Manie Libbok

The Stormers claim it is a “good time” to assess their depth at fly-half with first-choice Manie Libbok ruled out for the Champions Cup clash against Clermont this weekend in Cape Town.

Libbok was taken off the field following a head collision against London Irish last weekend, resulting in a red card for Ben Loader.

Solid options

Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu slotted in at pivot for the rest of the game and performed well for the most part, complete with a try assist courtesy of a sumptuous grubber in behind for teammate Suleiman Hartzenberg to run onto. Springbok Damian Willemse is another obvious option, having finished 2022 as the first-choice fly-half at Test level.

Stormers backline coach Dawie Snyman gave a positive update on Libbok, who has recovered well and will likely only be unavailable for a week due to concussion protocols. The backroom staff is also interested in testing their depth at 10, with the Springbok having started the vast majority of their games at fly-half over the last two seasons.

“He’s actually fine. In terms of his return, Manie’s done his return-to-play test on Wednesday so it’s probably just this week [that he’ll be absent]. He passed all the others. He was fine even after last weekend’s game,” Snyman said.

“Having him unavailable means we have to look at our options. It’s something we have to do, it’s probably a good time to do so too. There are lots of possibilities there. At some stage, we’ll probably have to operate without him anyway. It might even happen in a semi-final or final, so it’s a great challenge for us as a squad.

“We need to build depth there so that we can execute our game without him. He’s done a brilliant job for us.”

Two versatile stars

There are many parallels between Feinberg-Mngomezulu and Willemse in their versatility, temperament and how early their professional careers started.

Snyman was full of praise for the Junior Springboks captain, who has all the ingredients to be a world-class player.

“The comparison is spot-on, especially given that Sacha and Damian start their careers at us in similar contexts. Sacha plays with great composure and slots in well in big games, like last season’s URC quarter-final against Edinburgh,” said Snyman.

“Sacha’s big traits are composure and physicality, he’s got a rugby brain and understands games from different positions and what’s required.

“It’s something we want to develop, having multiple decision-makers on the field and guys who can take the ball at first receiver. And experienced guys [like Willemse] being around a younger guy also helps a lot.”

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