Jan Serfontein appears to be the forgotten man of Springbok rugby, since taking up residency in France in 2017 as Damian De Allende rose to the top as one of the world’s best inside centres. But why settle for only one of the best when we could have two? By Oliver Keohane.
Those watching the European Challenge Cup Final on Friday would have seen South Africans guide Montpellier to victory over Leicester, with a marked moment being the break, fend and offload from Jan Serfontein to set up fellow former Springbok Johan Goosen for a the try that would take them to 18-17 and ultimately win them the game. Goosen returns to South Africa later this year to play for the Bulls, and while Serfontein will continue to soar in France, one would hope (and think) that he is in the Springbok consciousness.
Serfontein has been brilliant in France, and has thrived in a backline that boasts Handre Pollard and Cobus Reinach, two players certain to be in the Springbok fold come the British & Irish Lions tour in July. While Damian De Allende has continued his superb Springbok form for Munster, South Africa’s next best option at inside centre is certainly Serfontein.
And this is they key, selecting Serfontein does not mean substituting De Allende. Especially in a tour year, depth is needed. Like-for-like depth is needed. Serfontein, in combination with, not at the expense of De Allende, would have a very important role to play for the Springboks this year and in the future.
Serfontein provides for the Springboks a physicality and go-forward akin to De Allende’s, with their style of play being similarly confrontational. What they are both very good at, and what is necessary within a Springbok style of play, is straightening the line, often breaking the first tackle and setting up either the inside or outside runner with a pass. Serfontein’s try assist in Friday’s Cup Final showed a prime example of this.
WATCH: Serfontein assists Goosen for match-winning try
In selecting Serfontein, Nienaber would be recruiting a talent who specialises at inside centre but is equally adept at outside centre. This would give breathing room to the axis of Am and De Allende, and open up the possibilities for alternative combinations.
Serfontein, who was named IRB Junior Player of the Year in the 2012 tournament which was won by the Baby Boks, is now only 28 years old. He has 35 tests and five international tries to his name, and this is after not having been involved in the international set up since his last game in 2017 against the All Blacks, where he was a phenomenal presence.
To seek out Serfontein is not to overlook the qualities of Cornal Hendricks as a second option, and I don’t think it has to be a choice as both players offer great versatility in being able to cover 12,13 and even wing. I do think, though, that Jan Serfontein is on par with Damian De Allende, in both style and quality, and I think that to continue to keep him out of South African consciousness would be a terrible mistake when he could play such a crucial role within the Springbok cause for the next couple of years.
WATCH: Serfontein’s last Springbok test, where he dominated the All Blacks at Newlands