Springbok defence coach John McFarland has underlined how Jan Serfontein has become the defensive kingpin of his team’s backline.
Although he made a name for himself at 12, the 2012 IRB Junior Player of the Year has been playing at outside centre – a notoriously difficult defensive position – for South Africa during the Rugby Championship.
While some pundits questioned the youngsters’ ability to adapt to the change, McFarland insists that he has come through with flying colours.
Serfontein and Jean de Villiers have been interchanging regularly but the defensive statistics nevertheless paint a positive picture.
“Jan’s defensive stats are quite impressive,” said McFarland in Cape Town on Tuesday.
“After every game we give away a prize for the player who makes the best or most tackles, and Jan has made a habit of it. ”
“He has already won three pairs of Oakleys, so the Serfontein family are wearing some quality sunglasses these days,” he joked.
“Against the All Blacks he made 24 tackles and in Perth he made 21. It is not just the number of tackles, but the quality of tackles he is putting in. He is not just stopping opposition players, but knocking them back. It’s been impressive.
“One also has to look at the quality of the centres we have played against in the last eight games. They are among the best so Jan has done really well.
“Against New Zealand he made 24 in the game and against Australia it was 21. In both matches he made the most.
“It’s important that we have a physical presence in those outside channels in terms of counter rucking and having Jan there to secure our ball when we move it there.”
While his defence has impressed Serfontein says he is itching to see more of the ball when South Africa welcome Australia to Newlands on Saturday. Indeed, the Boks have yet to unleash the full might of Serfontein’s attacking prowess.
“In our structure the number 12 sees a lot more of the ball and takes it up,” Serfontein said ahead of this weekend’s Test.
“That does take a bit of adaptation and it is not something I want to get used to because I like getting the ball in my hands.
“However, I only really stand at outside centre at first phase so that we get the move on the go. After that Jean and myself switch.
“Playing with Jean makes it easier for me. The fact that he has played 100 tests and had that experience means I can learn from him. He tends to make the right decisions more often than not and he’s a great communicator.
“I got a knock to my head during the game (in Wellington) so I don’t remember much about the match, but it was close. We had some good momentum at the end.”
South Africa will want to pick up from where they left off having put massive pressure on the All Blacks in the closing stages at the Cake Tin.
McFarland is hoping they can take the game to the Wallabies from the kick-off.
“You have to remember that in Perth we had to make 100 tackles and in New Zealand it was significantly more than that,” said McFarland.
“It was only really the last 15 minutes of the game against the All Blacks that we had any kind of control of possession. Before that we were mostly committed to defence.
“The game shape away from home is obviously very different from at home. This time hopefully we’ll be on the front foot, taking the ball to them.
“Finishing the game strongly like we did though has given us a lot of confidence looking forward. The bottom line though is that we didn’t win, and we need to learn to be more hard-nosed in attempting to close games out.”