Springboks coach explains decision to controversially sub off Libbok

The controversial substitution of starting fly half Manie Libbok after just 30 minutes of the Springboks’ comeback victory over England in the Rugby World Cup semifinal has been justified by South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber.

Libbok was caught after responding to a sliced clearance kick with a knock-on, concluding a catastrophic start to the game with England in the lead. Libbok had established himself as South Africa’s first-choice No. 10 in the lead-up to this tournament.

He was replaced by Handre Pollard, a crucial member of the Springboks team that won the 2019 World Cup, and the veteran assisted in organizing a comeback before nailing the game-winning penalty on 77 minutes to earn a narrow 16-15 victory and a place in the final on next Saturday.

Since Pollard is the more reliable option with a metronomic boot and Libbok is the more inventive, dynamic fly half, the substitution seemed to indicate that South Africa was giving up on England’s kick-heavy approach and would instead try to outplay them.

Nienaber explained the decision’s justifications in his post-game press conference and was adamant that Libbok would accept them.

The openness and honesty of this group, according to Nienaber, is one of its beauties. The players agree because we have the appropriate players.

“There are times when things do not go your way. We’ve done it with a lot of other people. We removed Bongi [Mbonambi] in 2018 after 35 minutes. He wasn’t very hot that day, but the following week, he got hot.

The same thing happened to [Libbok]; we let him leave early because things didn’t go according to plan. The most important thing is that they recognize that whatever they do is for the team. The players take it on the chin because you guys are upfront and honest, and that’s the beauty of the squad.

Nienaber continued by emphasizing that even if Libbok’s game did not go as he had hoped due to an early substitution, he is still a candidate to start the championship match against the All Blacks.

“It doesn’t mean he won’t start next week, but sometimes, unfortunately, it is like that,” Nienaber continued. That is the situation.

It’s for South Africa, not for me or for my ego, it’s for South Africa. Schoolchildren give us messages, and we receive each one that they send. The Springboks and South Africa are more important than anything else; we can’t let our egos get in the way of that.

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