The All Blacks Test is upon us and I am a nervous wreck. After shipping 98 points against them over two matches in last year’s Rugby Championship, no one can be blamed for feeling trepidation ahead of Saturday morning’s defining fixture.
The match will give Springboks supporters – and the rest of the world – an accurate assessment of South Africa’s unbeaten start to 2017. This resurgence has been underpinned by players who have seized the chance to redeem themselves after the horrors of 2016.
One name stands out above all others: Jan Serfontein. Deemed the world’s best rugby player under the age of 21 back in 2012 and 2013, Serfontein has – after after a disquieting absence – suddenly made the jump from prodigy to the Springbok No 12 jersey.
One of the players of the June series against France, and on the back of a decent start to the Championship, Serfontein and Jesse Kriel will be thoroughly examined by the formidable All Blacks midfield combination of Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty.
Williams is looking to make up for that pivotal red-card offence against the British & Irish Lions that changed the complexion of that series entirely. Naturally, he leads the competition with 10 offloads, so he poses a danger with those nifty pop passes around the corner.
Serfontein has a monumental job on his hands, and let’s face it, any chance of upsetting the All Blacks nowadays rests on a player like him nullifying his opposite number. While the Boks’ defence has not been an unmanned thoroughfare by any stretch of the imagination, the passive nature of the backline in the early phases of defence has been cause for concern.
The centres set the tone for the entire backline, whatever the defensive pattern, and with suspect tacklers like Elton Jantjies, Raymond Rhule and Andries Coetzee on either side of them, Serfontein and Kriel cannot afford to give the All Blacks 10-12-13 axis any room to breathe.
Granted, the outside backs were much improved against an Australian team that shaded the All Blacks three halves in a row, and this is certainly encouraging.
On attack, Serfontein has been excellent without ranking among the leaders of the tournament’s offensive stats. Nevertheless, he is a very difficult runner to take down and his gainline success gives the Boks an attacking edge – though I have not forgiven him for being reeled in by Michael Hooper!
For South Africa, it’s in-your-face or nothing against the world champions, and I feel that Serfontein will be the back division’s pivotal player if the Boks are to give a good account of themselves and possibly win.
What has also been significant is that the 12-13 combo has been given an extended run to settle and eventually bloom – kudos to Allister Coetzee for backing Serfontein and Kriel in the face of the public’s initial scepticism about the partnership.
It’s a shame that Serfontein has decided to further his career abroad just when he is starting to realise his potential, but with plans in place to fully incorporate ‘EuroBoks’ into future squads, you can bet on him being a fixture in the national team for years to come.
In the meantime, let’s hope he gives New Zealand something to cry about.
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