Two years ago Manie Libbok’s career was in limbo and seemingly on a downward spiral, but the flyhalf will head into the Rugby World Cup in France as South Africa’s first-choice number 10 and the man they rely on to ignite their potent backline.
Libbok, 26, played at the Pretoria-based Bulls and in Durban for the Sharks, but it was only after a move to Cape Town in 2021 that the flyhalf began to blossom, leading the Stormers to back-to-back finals in the United Rugby Championship.
His career had stagnated, but he found a team that played to his strengths, who ran the ball and gave him the freedom to showcase his rugby intellect and vision.
Also, perhaps most crucially, he was shown unwavering support by Stormers coach John Dobson.
“Manie comes from a tough background financially, and he felt vulnerable and just wanted to be backed,” Dobson told SuperSport. “He was quite insecure when he came to us, and it was all about telling him, ‘you are playing next week’.
“With Manie, you never go back correctively and tell him he did something wrong. If he is properly confident, he is imperious.”
Dobson describes Libbok as a “rugby anorak” who obsesses over the game and has a deep desire to learn, leading to an finely tuned rugby brain.
“If you ask Manie how his weekend went, he would say he watched the Six Nations games and had spotted trends that are developing in the back field approach of some of the teams,” he says.
An injury to regular Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard opened the door to national team selection and Libbok’s performances for the Stormers could not be ignored.
He allows the Boks to play a different style of rugby to previous years, less about tactical kicking and more to create opportunities for their talented back three with ball in hand.
He debuted against France in 2022 and has impressed since, keeping the equally talented Damian Willemse out of the number 10 jersey.
There have been questions over his accuracy off the kicking tee – he missed four relatively simple kicks in the 52-16 win over Wales this month, but knocked over five from five versus New Zealand a week later.
It is that inconsistency the Boks will hope to iron out of his game, but for the rest he has the full package to lead them to World Cup success.