Cape Town – Twenty-year-old bright prospect Jan Serfontein
has had successive nibbles of Test rugby for South Africa ... surely the time
has come for a more significant bite?
The Bulls inside centre could well be left on tenterhooks
for a possible maiden start against Samoa at Loftus on Saturday (17:15 kickoff),
given the smoke signals from the Springbok camp that severely overplayed
captain Jean de Villiers may be given until later in the week to recover from a
sternum injury he picked up the laboured victory over Scotland last weekend.
It seems crystal-clear that De Villiers is running on
reserves of energy at this stage of the season, although he uncomplainingly
turns out week after week for full matches for either franchise or country, and
almost always makes a good fist of his duty.
Little wonder, then, that the veteran is struggling now with
something that appears slightly more serious than a mere niggle.
Bok team doctor Craig Roberts on Monday rated De Villiers as
“50-50” for the closing June Test, but even if the old warrior is patched up
for battle once again, the risk of a more serious layoff will presumably only
The right thing to do, I strongly suspect, is to give him an
overdue break on Saturday -- even if it also understandable why national coach
Heyneke Meyer wants to get the most out of his designated leader and one of the
most stable, dependable members of the current Bok backline.
After all, this is the “final” of the four-team tournament
and the ever-uncompromising, unbeaten Samoans come off a surprisingly easy disposal
of Italy in the early fixture at Mbombela Stadium.
But at least some allowance needs to be made for longer-term
needs, and a temporary cotton-wooling of De Villiers, to ensure he is at
optimum physical and mental readiness for the Castle Rugby Championship a
little further ahead, seems the correct medicine.
Unfortunately the 32-year-old has seen far more Super Rugby
service, and also been saddled anew with the burden of franchise leadership
because of Schalk Burger’s various health woes, than was probably intended at
the start of 2013, especially as the Stormers haven’t exactly been blessed with
enormous midfield depth and fellow-Bok Juan de Jongh has been injury-prone.
I believe Meyer could do worse than pull De Villiers out of
the starting mix almost immediately, and if he is somehow deemed suitably fit enough
for Saturday, could be listed among the substitutes for infusion as a wise,
calming soul to the fray in the (still unlikely?) event that the faeces hits
the fan at a fairly advanced stage of the Samoa clash.
Alternative leadership presents no significant problems at
this point, so Saturday also shapes as a fittingly taxing, ideal opportunity
for the Boks to look at the potential 80-minute Test credentials of Serfontein,
the 2012 IRB Junior Player of the Year, in his favourite No 12 slot.
The Port Elizabeth-born player, at 1.87m and 97kg, has
pretty much the correct tale of the tape for the unsubtle challenge of the
Pacific Islanders, and proved his physical qualities by wriggling out of two or
three attempted tackles by tiring Scotsmen last Saturday to dot the final try
in the 80th minute and belatedly put the game right out of the
He got 10 minutes of activity as a substitute at Nelspruit,
to go with eight accumulated against Italy a week earlier, and would also have
no major problem gelling with Bulls colleague JJ Engelbrecht if the latter’s
much improved second half – following a slightly shaky first -- against
Scotland is deemed sufficient for his retention at outside centre.
Although there are some dissenters about the ongoing
confidence Meyer has in De Villiers as both skipper and player, don’t count me
among them: he’s been Mister Reliable throughout the year thus far, and one of
few backs you can generally trust to rush out defensive alignment because of
the expectation that he will actually nail his man or at least do enough to
thwart enemy attacking flow.
And should Serfontein really excel on Saturday in a possible
full-game capacity, there is always the option, for future purposes, of pushing
the versatile De Villiers to No 13, where he occasionally admits to enjoying
being just a tad more removed from the heavier infield traffic.
Ticket prices have been decreased for Saturday’s closing
“double-header” in Pretoria, with rugby bosses clearly just a little concerned
about the inability of the Boks to fill stadiums thus far in the international
season – though at least the 30,000 gate in the Lowveld comfortably eclipsed
the notably poor 23,600 at Kings Park a week earlier.
I’d suggest that early knowledge of wunderkind Serfontein
getting a start at his home venue wouldn’t exactly harm Operation Bring ‘Em
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