Jan Serfontein's immediate Test future will be decided by how he finishes this Vodacom Super Rugby campaign, writes RYAN VREDE.
Serfontein broke into national consciousness in 2012 through a superb Junior World Championship campaign, which culminated in him being named the IRB Junior Player of the Year. A Springbok debut followed in 2013 after he showed himself to be highly competent in his debut Super Rugby season with the Bulls. However, two years into his professional career Serfontein's ascent has slowed, with injuries and a greater and more informed focus on him from opposition contributing significantly to that.
I've written a more extensive analysis of Serfontein's situation for the next edition of SA Rugby magazine, but for this platform I'll stick to the critical issues. The premise I begin from is that Serfontein has star quality and deserves to be invested in. His struggles are in keeping with those of a gifted rookie, not a terminally hopeless one. However, he has to show improvement in the coming weeks in order to build a case for his Test selection as a form player, as opposed to one whose selection would be primarily based on previous contributions and the belief of the coach.
In an interview last week, Bulls attack coach Pieter Rossouw acknowledged that Serfontein was struggling for form. Rossouw admitted that impressive rookie Burger Odendaal has edged ever closer to trumping him as a regular starter. He did, however, stress they were fully aware of what the challenges with Serfontein are and stressed that they are working tirelessly to remedy those.
'Teams have worked him out tactically, which happens with all young players after a couple of years,' Rossouw said. 'So he has to adapt and grow. How that happens is by trying to see yourself as the opposition sees you. In that way you can avoid them nullifying you by doing something they don't expect or executing the play they expect you to make excellently.
'Jan also has to improve his decision-making under pressure and take the right option more consistently. These things take time and experience to come. He is still young and has the talent and mental strength to push through this period.'
It's reasonable to expect Serfontein – 20 Tests and 30-plus Super Rugby games into his professional career – to be further in his development, though. As it stands the Stormers' Damien de Allende has played consistently better and would start at inside centre if a Springbok XV were to be named today. However, the first Test of 2015 is on 11 July, offering Serfontein plenty of time to remind us of his value to the Test team and why Heyneke Meyer is loathe to omit him from his squad.
The fruits of his efforts with Rossouw and the Bulls coaching staff have to begin to show in the coming weeks. His response will tell us more about his mental constitution than it does his technical ability. And, ultimately, the game's elite players are defined by a granitic mental constitution which serves to amplify their talent.