Still only 21, Serfontein has already established a reputation as something of a dump truck.
The Springboks arrived in Ireland last weekend with a new-found reputation for fancy rugby after their most recent displays against Australia and the All Blacks, but there is much that is still reassuringly familiar about the tourists.
Jan Serfontein, for example. Newish he may be, but he is a South African to the core. The Blue Bulls centre hails from venerable rugby stock. His great granddad Jack Slater played for South Africa, his father Jan lined out for Eastern Province and brother Willem was a junior captain with the Bulls and now plays for the Pumas in the Currie Cup.
Serfontein ticks more boxes: he is vocal about his religion, his favourite food is steak and his identification of ‘Gladiator’ as his movie of choice reflects the national love affair with the meatier aspects to the game of rugby.
Still only 21, he has already established a reputation as something of a dump truck even if, at 6’ 2”, he doesn’t look like the biggest of behemoths that have become commonplace in the midfield sector these days.
That the Springboks like to make a hit is no secret and the pleasure has been formalised within the squad this season with the reward of a pair of Oakley sunglasses for the player who makes the biggest tackle.
Serfontein has already won three of them and it isn’t just about the quality. It’s quantity, as well. He made a total of 43 tackles alone on the Springboks’ swing between Perth and Wellington in the recent Rugby Championship.
He lines up alongside 20-year-old out-half Handre Pollard tomorrow. The pair have just 20 caps total, a tally that you might think would invite Ireland’s bruisers down their 10-12 channel, but probably not.
Pollard is no shrinking violet and carries in and around 15 stone, just like Serfontein. Joe Schmidt talked up the pair yesterday when asked specifically about their defensive capabilities.
“Handre and myself have got to know each other quite well on the defence and our defence is quite solid, I think,” said the understated centre. “Ach, you must expect anything at any time in the game so we will be ready.”
And yet there is more to him than that. Serfontein was top try scorer two years ago when the Baby Boks won the Junior World Cup and he once told a South African newspaper about his ambition to harness the disparate talents of Boks legend Danie Gerber, Ma’a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams.
His ball-carrying and running abilities have yet to be seen to their full effect on the senior stage. Though he wears 13 and Jean De Villiers 12, the younger man spends much of his time at inside centre.
“The last two games the emphasis on the team has also been to be a bit more attacking, so when we get the ball we run it a bit and everybody gets their hands on the ball,” he said.
“We are quite a good attacking team at the moment.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved