South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber insists that Manie Libbok’s performance in the Rugby World Cup semi-final does not automatically rule him out of next weekend’s game.
England were much the better team in the opening half-hour with Steve Borthwick’s men controlling most facets of the match.
A struggling Springboks pack did not help, but the playmaker was finding it difficult with his kicking out of hand as the Red Rose dominated territory and possession.
Libbok duly took the fall for the side’s failures in the first half and was brutally taken off after 31 minutes.
Handre Pollard’s impact
His replacement, Handre Pollard, played a key role in the triumph, kicking the winning penalty in the latter stages of the contest.
“The beauty of this group is we are open and honest, and because we have the right players, the players accept it,” he said.
“Sometimes things aren’t going your way. We did it with Bongi [Mbonambi] in 2018. We took him off. For that specific day he just was not on fire but he started the next week again.
“The main thing is everything is for the team and they understand that. Players take it on the chin. It doesn’t mean he [Libbok] won’t start next week. We didn’t miss a kick at goal tonight, every single opportunity we utilised, with him and Handre [Pollard]. That is how it is. It is for South Africa, not for the individual, not for the ego.
“We get messages and we see every single message that gets sent to us. It is for them. The Springboks are more important than anything else.”
To Libbok’s immense credit, he fronted up to the media after the match and did not hold a grudge against the coaches for their decision.
“It is always a team effort,” the fly-half said. “I am just stoked for what the guys did tonight. It was something special. I am just proud of the guys for sticking in there.
“I am stoked for the guys coming off the bench and lifting the tempo of the game.”
Needed something special
In abysmal conditions, South Africa were 15-6 in arrears going into the final 12 minutes, but Pollard produced a superb kick to set up the position for the game’s only try.
The fly-half then scored a 50-metre penalty to give them a 16-15 triumph over England in the semi-final.
They will now face the All Blacks in the final of the World Cup at the Stade de France in Paris next weekend.
“We struggled to get a foothold in the game and get things going. Like the 2019 World Cup quarter-final and semi-final, you need a 60-metre maul, something special to break the game open, and I think the touch kick that set us up for the try [was it],” Nienaber said.
“In this weather and these conditions, to score a try against England that has an unbelievable defence, and this is their first loss in the tournament, was special. And then there was big pressure on nailing that last kick for the win.”