Springbok centres Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel will have their hands full closing down Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty at Newlands on Saturday.
It turns out that popcorn may have a played a key role in fusing the All Blacks midfield tandem.
“We have cuddles… sometimes watch a movie or two together,” joked Williams. “We’ve played together for years, since the Crusaders, so I just listen and do what I’m told.”
Serfontein and Kriel don’t have the same familiarity after Bok coach Allister Coetzee opted to spend 2016 experimenting with five different centre combinations. But Williams still views them as a formidable combination.
“We know the kind of athlete Kriel is, but we feel his midfield partner (Serfontein) brings that stability to enhance his game,” he said.
‘SBW and Crotts’ have enhanced each other’s ability, building on the legacy of their predecessors to become an invaluable component of the world champions.
“Lining up with Ryan gives me confidence because he’s been there and done that. He can see things from a 12’s perspective as well,” said Williams.
Crotty, 27, has become a mainstay for the All Blacks after his breakout season in 2016, as well as the perfect foil for the 41-capped Williams, whose offload wizardry and rock-star persona is complemented by his partner’s dependability and intelligence.
Their partnership was conceptualised at the Crusaders in 2011; New Zealand’s back-to-back World Cup winners Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith were first paired at the Hurricanes.
Williams and Crotty will start in No 12 and No 13 jerseys respectively for the All Blacks on Saturday, but they won’t be limited by the numbers on their back.
“(No 13) Ma’a Nonu could play 13, I could play 13, Snakey (Smith) was predominately a 13. We exchange and mix roles in a match, and it comes down to who’s feeling pressure from his opposite number, or who’s coming on and who’s going off. It’s a pretty good set-up we have at the moment.”