Opinion: Time for whizz-kid Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu to shine at 10 against Clermont
The Stormers will be without their superstar fly-half Manie Libbok this weekend against Clermont Auvergne after the Springbok suffered a concussion against London Irish.
The situation is an interesting one for the Capetonians, who only need one point to qualify for the last-16 but would also like to use the final pool game to shoot up the table and secure home knockouts.
Despite Libbok being consistently used by head coach John Dobson as the team’s playmaker, his absence presents an opportunity to test their depth.
Dobson is blessed with options, and it is more of a case of how he wants to play it versus how he needs to play it.
Damian Willemse played an extended period of the Test season in 2022 at fly-half for the Springboks and ended the year with a stunning performance against England. There is no doubt the versatile star could very easily slot into the 10 jersey but at what cost.
There is no hiding from the fact that the Stormers are more defensively sound with Willemse patrolling the backfield as the full-back. He reads the game so well and is extremely athletic. Clayton Blommetjies is excellent on the front foot, but Willemse’s defensive nous and quality under the highball make him a more secure option.
All of this points to the obvious selection of prodigy Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu at fly-half. The young talent played 60-odd minutes last weekend when he came on for Libbok and held his own for the most part. There was a mistake here and there, but also glimpses of brilliance, including a grubber try to assist for Suleiman Hartzenberg.
Sacha Mngomezulu produces the perfect grubber for Suleiman Hartzenberg 🎯@THESTORMERS get their third try just before half-time to open up a comfortable lead 📈#HeinekenChampionsCup pic.twitter.com/CmxFbJnraf
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) January 15, 2023
His hit out against London Irish is the first extended period of a game he has operated at fly-half, the position he rose through the junior ranks with. Outside of that, Feinberg-Mngomezulu has only featured at inside centre where he shone in Stormers’ colours.
Given he was only returning from injury against the Exiles and is relatively unaccustomed to northern conditions, the talent’s performance should still earn him the thumbs up for this weekend.
There has not been this much excitement about a prodigy pushing through the ranks for a while. It is time for Feinberg-Mngomezulu to start in his preferred fly-half position, at home, in familiar conditions.
The pending superstar made headlines with a stunning 17-point performance against Zebre earlier this season, catching the eye of Springboks selectors in the process. Now he has been in the national set-up and undoubtedly learnt a great deal from that, he has the golden opportunity to produce a statement performance.
🇿🇦 20-year-old Junior @Springboks captain
⚡️ @TheStormers Vodacom URC debut
2️⃣2️⃣ Points made from kicks & tries
Sacha Mngomezulu was electric 🏉@Vodacom #URC pic.twitter.com/4KKUdoMCZP
— Vodacom United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial_RSA) October 11, 2022
Feinberg-Mngomezulu has this surety about him, a quiet confidence blended with the unlikely combination of maturity beyond his years and exuberance. His vision going forward is outstanding, and he loves to attack, making him perfect for the Stormers, who, under Dobson, seem to score the most incredible tries in most games.
The ingredients are there for him to succeed, particularly as he would be playing in combination with Willemse, who has greatly influenced his growth as a young star.
The pair have drawn comparisons ever since Feinberg-Mngomezulu burst onto the scene. The parallels are uncanny; both are incredibly talented, versatile and rather wise for a young player.
Willemse transcended a different sphere during 2022 for club and country and is the perfect role model for his teammate. Dobson often speaks about the Springbok’s commitment to the team and using whatever he needs from his ever-growing toolbox to benefit the collective.
The prospect of the pair playing in the 10-15 axis is exhilarating, and with Racing 92 rumoured to be eyeing Libbok, it could be crucial for the Stormers’ future to explore these options now before having to scramble.
Ultimately, it is the right time to give Feinberg-Mngomezulu the 10 jersey in favourable conditions and in front of home fans to see just how good the prodigy is.
READ MORE: Champions Cup: Stormers ready to test fly-half depth in Manie Libbok’s absence