Why the Stormers are actively embracing their Manie Libbok setback for Clermont clash

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Manie Libbok. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)
Manie Libbok. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)
  • Manie Libbok's absence for the Stormers' Champions Cup meeting with Clermont represents a perfect opportunity for the franchise to explore some depth in the No 10 jersey.
  • Assistant coach Dawie Snyman notes that Libbok's superb form has led to less rotation in the position, but his raised profile means his availability could become spotty. 
  • The Stormers also wouldn't be averse to picking a rookie at flyhalf because he would have Damian Willemse and Clayton Blommentjies on his outside to help with hitches.

Manie Libbok, as expected, won't be in contention for selection when the Stormers aim to secure safe passage to the knockout stages of the European Champions Cup against Clermont at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.

Yet the defending URC champions are so philosophical about his concussion-protocol absence that they almost sound excited about it.

The root of that sentiment is obvious: it forces the Cape franchise to consider building their depth in the No 10 jersey.

Libbok's hand in the Stormers' success has been so big that he's understandably almost annexed the position though the attention he's received from the Springboks means he might not be around so regularly anymore. 

"He's actually fine. In terms of his return, Manie's done his return-to-play test on Wednesday so it's probably just this week [that he'll be absent]. He passed all the others. He was even fine after last weekend's game," Stormers assistant coach Dawie Snyman said on Wednesday.

"Having him unavailable means we have to look at our options. It's something we have to do, it's probably a good time to do so too. There are lots of possibilities there. At some stage, we'll probably have to operate without him anyway. It might even happen in a semi-final or final, so it's a great challenge for us as a squad.

"We need to build depth there so that we can execute our game without him. He's done a brilliant job for us."

READ | Stormers defence needs to be on point against Clermont, says midfield linchpin Nel

While Damian Willemse remains an attractive option to move to pivot given his pedigree there at Bok level, it would seem more likely that rookies Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu or Kade Wolhurter will be enlisted.

The former deputised solidly for Libbok in last weekend's win over London Irish as substitute and, like Willemse, is rapidly carving out a reputation as a utility back.

"The comparison is spot-on, especially given that Sacha and Damian start their careers at us in similar contexts. Sacha plays with great composure and slots in well in big games, like last season's URC quarter-final against Edinburgh," said Snyman.

"Sacha's big traits are composure and physicality, he's got a rugby brain and understands games from different positions and what's required."

Moreover, the risk of selecting a youngster at flyhalf is one that's mitigated by the Stormers' now well established system of having interchangeable play-makers during matches.

Last season, Willemse, Warrick Gelant and Libbok all "took turns" playing first receiver or falling back to be fullback and that philosophy has continued since the arrival of Clayton Blommetjies. 

"It's something we want in place. We want multiple decision-makers on the field, guys that can take over roles during a game like being first receiver and understand what's tactically needed at whatever stage," said Snyman.

"That experience around a guy that might not be as experienced will help a lot."

Kick-off in Cape Town is at 19:30 on Saturday. 

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