Dynamic midfield duo delight

MARK KEOHANE, in Business Day writes, that Jan Serfontein and JJ Engelbrecht produced the best South African Super Rugby midfield performance of the year.

The Bulls reinforced the view that they are the most balanced South African team in this year’s Super Rugby and Serfontein’s introduction into the starting XV has transformed the potency of the team’s attack.

The Bulls first half against the Kings in Port Elizabeth was as good as I have seen from a South African Super Rugby team this season.

The Kings were given a lesson in every aspect of the game in an opening 40 that showcased every quality that historically has made South Africa one of the great rugby nations.

The Bulls forwards, to the man, were colossal in the contact. They were dominant at the gainline and physically imposed themselves on a team whose physicality had been its strength for the last two months.

Halfbacks Jano Vermaak and Morne Steyn turned the physical superiority into playing superiority. Vermaak was decisive and played with variation and Steyn dictated and played with authority.

There has been criticism of Steyn’s game at Test level, but in Super Rugby he is among the best 10s in the competition. He is the leading South African No 10 on form and there is no better exponent of front foot flyhalf play in South Africa.

Steyn’s downfall at Test level has often been when his pack is negated and he is forced to conjure up the individual brilliance that defines New Zealand’s Dan Carter.

Steyn does not possess those natural skills of Carter but then Carter in the last decade has been the exception to flyhalf play and not the rule.
The neutral tuning into the Bulls visit to Port Elizabeth would have been awed by the pace and precision of the first 40 minutes. This was South African rugby at its best.

I have always countered the view, held especially in Australia, that South African players offer physicality but are not blessed with natural attacking skills.

The very best Springbok teams have always been fantastic attacking sides. If you doubt the view do a search on YouTube and type in the Boks scoring 50 points against France in Paris in 1997. That’s just one example of how South Africans can play if they are encouraged to trust their natural attacking instincts.

We have always had the players in South Africa, but we have not always had the belief in their attack or the patience in investment. The conservative nature of our coaches and supporters encourage a risk-free approach.

The Bulls in Port Elizabeth showed energy and enterprise. Vermaak’s try should be shown over and over whenever anyone suggests South African players don’t know how to attack and don’t know how to make decisive offloads in the tackle.

It is my try of the season when I factor occasion, playing conditions and decision-making.

Serfontein, selected to start because of injury to Wynand Olivier, has added the missing dimension to the Bulls backs and he has also added something better to outside centre JJ Engelbrecht’s attacking game.

Engelbrecht, originally a winger at Western Province, has made the positional switch to outside centre with the Bulls. I know Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer was initially very impressed with Engelbrecht, but the transition a year ago stuttered and there were reservations of the player’s defensive organization at No 13. The criticism wasn’t that he couldn’t tackle but that he couldn’t organize structured defence.

Jacque Fourie, as an outside centre, was among the game’s most effective defensive organisers, and he was also blessed with the size and pace of most international wingers.

Engelbrecht is no Fourie but he has all the attributes to be Fourie’s successor. There has to be an investment in him and it may come now that Serfontein is playing as his Bulls midfield partner.

The duo caused chaos against the experienced Kings midfield of Andries Strauss and Waylon Murray, and Engelbrecht was particularly strong defensively in the latter stages of the game.

Engelbrecht missed out on the end of year tour. He also missed out on Meyer’s recent Bok training squad, but I don’t see him missing out in June if the Bulls forwards sustain the intensity of Port Elizabeth and Serfontein and Steyn remain on his inside.

Jean de Villiers will captain the Boks if fit but Serfontein will get an introduction to Test rugby against Scotland and Italy and of all the South African 13’s on display Engelbrecht is the one I’d be picking.

De Villiers and Fourie, at their peak, were the best midfield in the game. Serfontein and Engelbrecht, in time, could be even better.