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Introducing: Manie Libbok

Introducing: Manie Libbok

Introducing: Manie Libbok

Just a three years ago Manie Libbok was struggling to make the grade domestically – now he’s been tasked with steering South Africa to a defence of their World Cup crown.

Libbok is far from a direct replacement for veteran fly-half Handre Pollard, who has been placed on Jacques Nienaber’s standby list after missing out on the 33-man tournament squad.

A comparison with New Zealand stand-off Beauden Barrett is perhaps more fitting for Libbok, who is equally capable of producing a match-winning moment as he is a piece of skill which will have social media on its knees.

In the conservative South African rugby environment, risk-averse by its very nature, he offers a tantalising tonic, a taste of the untamed.

Opinions differ on whether Libbok was always destined to spearhead his country’s attack, but one thing is for sure, he is one to watch this autumn and beyond.

A star in the making

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Little more than two years after Nelson Mandela presented the Webb Ellis Cup to Francois Pienaar, Immanuel Libbok was born in Humansdorp in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

The only player in the town’s history to play for his country, Libbok first turned heads during his maiden provincial selection a decade ago when he ran in tries for Eastern Province against the Blue Bulls and Golden Lions in an under-16s tournament.

Libbok moved to the city of George a year later, in one of the first key moves of his career.

At Craven Week in 2015, a tournament famed for harvesting rough diamonds, Libbok stole the show, scoring 43 points in three matches including four tries for SWD Eagles.

Those performances warranted inclusion in the South Africa Schools team, and he went onto make 10 appearances for the under-20s side, including at the 2016 World Rugby Under-20 Championship, where he scored three tries as the Baby Boks finished fourth.

Into the wilderness

After starring for his country at youth level, Libbok continued to impress for the Blue Bulls Under-19 team.

He graduated to the senior side ahead of the 2017 Super Rugby season and started five matches across his first two seasons as a senior, but that was as good as it got for Libbok in Pretoria.

He struggled to nail down a starting place and moved to the Sharks as a result, but he was deemed surplus to requirements shortly after making the move to Durban.

Reflecting on those difficult times, Libbok said: “Looking back at where my career began to where I am now, it wasn’t easy, but I’m grateful for those tough times and to be here (at the Springboks).

“It helped me learn more as a player and develop under different coaches, but it also built character.

“I’ve always wanted to become a Springbok, and I knew that in order to achieve that, I had to keep my head down and keep working.”

Brewing with the Stormers

Sometimes a fresh start is all that’s needed to revitalise a career and so it proved with Libbok, who soon after joining the Stormers looked a different beast.

He helped the Cape Town side to the United Rugby Championship title in 2021 and made his Springbok debut a year later.

The Autumn Nations Series offered international audiences a first glimpse of his direct style and aggressive running game.

By this stage there was little doubt that he had proven his old coaches wrong, including Bulls director Jake White, who admitted in February he was happy to see Libbok realise his potential.

“When I look at him I think, ‘jeez he’s playing well’. He wins a game and it’s almost like he loves playing against the Bulls,” said White.

“He’s played well against us every time and it’s almost like his way of showing me we should have kept him at the Bulls.

“So maybe Manie should thank me for releasing him because at least now he is playing well, and he wouldn’t have been playing for us because we had Morne Steyn, Chris Smith and Johan Goosen.”


Prior to joining the Stormers, Libbok was struggling to shake the ‘utility back’ tag.

But he is unquestionably a fly-half now, and one who held in very high regard by Boks head coach Nienaber, who has named only the versatile Damian Willemse as cover for Libbok in this year’s World Cup.

That is despite Libbok having started just three Tests ahead of South Africa’s Summer Nations Series fixture with Wales, where he will once again pull the strings from fly-half.

But those Rugby Championship appearances have underlined his strengths, rather than exposing any witnesses.

Against Australia, he demonstrated his bravery by exploiting the half gaps while also showing off his natural passing ability.

Then in the first win of two wins against Argentina, his kicking from hand and from the tee came to the fore, with a well-taken try carrying South Africa to a hard-fought victory.

But it was arguably the return fixture against the Pumas which provided the biggest indicator of what’s to come, with popped passes, no-look give-and-gos and a cross kick to Canan Moodie that most could only dream of attempting, let along pulling it off.

Libbok’s career to date has been dogged by uncertainly but he is the unquestionably the Springbok’s new No.10.

With just seven caps under his belt, the best is yet to come, and if his journey this far is anything to go by, the next chapter of Manie Magic is not one to miss.

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