South Africa boss Jacques Nienaber has explained his decision to bring off Manie Libbok so early in the first half of their Rugby World Cup semifinal victory over England. The Springboks broke English hearts late on with a late penalty from Handre Polland clinching a 16-15 victory and with it, their place in Sunday’s final against New Zealand, but it was not all plain sailing for Nienaber on a tense night at the Stade de France.
England dominated for the vast majority of the contest, with Owen Farrell proving accurate with his kicking as he claimed the entire share of the points as they took a healthy lead into the second half.
But South Africa managed to get themselves back into the contest with RG Snyman scoring a try as they headed into the final 10 minutes in Saint-Denis.
Pollard’s late kick was enough to snatch victory from England’s hands, despite having led for 78 minutes of the game, as Nienaber celebrated with his players at the final whistle.
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Nienaber, who is set to step aside after the tournament to coach Leinster, was forced to make some tough calls throughout the game after deciding to withdraw Libbok after just 30 minutes. But his decision paid off with Pollard’s decisive kick, and he insisted that subbing off their starting fly-half was necessary for the team – even if it meant humiliating the 26-year-old.
“The beauty of this group is we are open and honest, and because we have the right players, the players accept it,” Nienaber said in his post-match press conference. “Sometimes things aren’t going your way.
“We did it with Bongi [Mbonambi] in 2018. We took him off after 30 minutes. He was just, for that specific day, he was just not on fire. But he started the next week again. The same with the guy like Willie [le Roux], we took him off early, because things didn’t go his way.
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“The main thing is everything is for the team, and they understand that and that’s the beauty of the squad. We’re open and honest and players take it on the chin and it doesn’t mean that he won’t start next week. It’s just unfortunately sometimes it’s like that.
“I think every single opportunity where we got we utilised, both him and Handre. The kick that he also kicked at the beginning was a tough one. But listen, that’s how it is, it’s for South Africa. It’s not for the individual, it’s not for the ego, it’s for South Africa.”
The Boks will now have a week to prepare for their mouthwatering final and defend their crown against three-time champions New Zealand, who comfortably swept aside Argentina 44-6 on Saturday.
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