Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Not too long ago the Bulls, who have developed him fairly patiently, could claim that rookie inside centre Jan Serfontein
was something of a secret weapon.
But the more starts the Port Elizabeth-born customer gets in Super Rugby, the more the secrecy factor inevitably starts to wane ... particularly when he is generally getting such rave reviews.
Serfontein has even made people sit up and take notice in Australia, where they tend to take pride in their own backline talent and attacking principles and - rightly or wrongly - perceive South African rugby to be obsessed with brute force and an unsubtle, conservative approach.
Sydney Morning Herald rugby columnist Paul Cully wrote this week, in a piece headlined “Bullocking Serfontein shows the way for Australian rookies”, that the “outstanding young midfielder - big, strong, fast but with skills and vision - has the ability to change the way the Bulls attack and be a Springbok for years to come”.
He also lauded the Bulls for “caution being the key word” in his development this year.
“The 2012 IRB junior player of the year is just 20; as a result his appearances in the Bulls’ recent tour of Australia and New Zealand were fleeting, although he threatened to open up the Reds game late on in Brisbane with some typically direct angles.
“But it was last week, against the Kings in Port Elizabeth, that we really began to get an understanding of what he brings.”
Cully then mentioned Serfontein’s “perfectly timed run” to crash over the tryline from Morne Steyn’s deft inside pass, and 15 minutes later his “lovely offload” from the deck to Jano Vermaak
for another Bulls try as the Kings tottered in the high-octane first half of the contest.
The writer lamented Australia not properly embracing the increasingly important IRB Junior World Championship, where Serfontein made such a big impact in the Baby Boks’ tournament triumph last year.
He might have enviously added too, had he known at the time, that on Thursday the player was named for South Africa’s defence of the spoils at the 2013 event, for which he remains eligible.
With respected former senior Bok coach Nick Mallett also enthusing on television last Saturday that the country’s hopes of a renaissance in skilful backline play lay in good hands with the likes of Serfontein and Robert Ebersohn looming fast on the Test horizon, it is clear that the Waratahs will hardly enter Saturday’s potentially attractive clash at Loftus (17:05) unprepared for Serfontein’s booming artistry.
Although, pleasingly, the Bulls No 12 looks anything but a shrinking violet physically and mentally, both he and similarly in-form midfield partner JJ Engelbrecht
will know that neither of Rob Horne (Serfontein’s scheduled direct opponent) or Adam Ashley-Cooper will allow them any “turnstile” luxuries in the Pretoria showdown.
Both Waratahs centres are Wallabies, with the admirably versatile Ashley-Cooper a 77-capper, and even the less experienced Horne has been playing Super Rugby since 2008.
The last-named player happens also to be renowned as an uncompromising defender and turnover-seeker, so this game shapes as another challenging step in Serfontein’s hitherto highly impressive education at this level.
There is no good reason to suspect he will be found wanting, but he may also just get a wee reminder that the more a player is talked up, the more desirous others may only be to take him down a peg or two ...Teams:Bulls:
15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane
, 13 JJ Engelbrecht
, 12 Jan Serfontein
, 11 Bjorn Basson
, 10 Mornè Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak
, 8 Pierre Spies
(captain), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Dewald Potgieter
, 5 Juandrè Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger
, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle
, 1 Dean Greyling
Substitutes: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Jacques Potgieter, 20 Francois Hougaard
, 21 Louis Fouchè, 22 Lionel Mapoe
15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Crawford, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Rob Horne, 11 Tom Kingston, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis (captain), 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Substitutes: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Mitchell Chapman, 19 Pat McCutcheon, 20 Matt Lucas, 21 Ben Volavola, 22 Peter Betham*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing