JON CARDINELLI looks at the backline men who could play an important role in the 2014 Vodacom Super Rugby tournament.
JAN SERFONTEIN (BULLS)
Earmarked for greatness from a young age, Serfontein produced some encouraging performances for the Bulls and Boks in 2013. The 2014 Super Rugby season will be different in that Serfontein is no longer considered a rookie, and more will be expected of him as a regular starter in the No 12 position. He’s already proved he can mix it with the big boys with some especially physical performances in midfield during the 2013 season. What sets Serfontein apart from other centres, however, is his timing and anticipation on attack. The perception that the Bulls play a boring, one-dimensional brand of rugby is false, and there is enough firepower in their backline to lay waste to even the most sophisticated defences in this tournament. Serfontein will continue to strengthen his midfield partnership with JJ Engelbrecht, who also enjoyed a strong introduction to Test rugby in 2013. The Bulls will miss the experienced Morné Steyn in the flyhalf position, and the lack of an established No 10 may increase the pressure on players like Serfontein. It’s going to be a testing season for the Bulls, and an important one for Serfontein, who will want to push Jean de Villiers for that starting position at the Boks.
WILLIE LE ROUX (CHEETAHS)
The Cheetahs were the first side to give Willie le Roux, the most unique player in South Africa, carte blanche to allow him to play the situation and in many instances run at flyhalf in the latter phases of an attacking movement. Le Roux is one of the best finishers in the country, and his ability to create led to many a Cheetahs try in 2013. Le Roux carried that form over to the Test stage, leading Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie to describe him as a dangerous player who approaches attack like an Australian. He has performed consistently for the Cheetahs and Boks, while still maintaining that unpredictable quality that makes it so hard for defenders to mark him. He may not be the complete package just yet, but if he continues to improve his tactical kicking, it will only strengthen the Cheetahs’ bid for a play-off place in the 2014 tournament. The Cheetahs succeeded in 2013 because of a more balanced approach, so Le Roux will also be expected to contribute on defence. What will continue to set him apart, and what will continue to be the difference in many close games, is that attacking X factor.
ELTON JANTJIES (LIONS)
Back in Johannesburg after a season with the Stormers, Jantjies will feel he has something to prove. The sojourn in Cape Town will not be remembered fondly, for the way he performed and the way he was treated by the local fans. Jantjies will feel more at home wearing the No 10 jersey at the Lions, whose game plan is suited to his attacking strengths. He does have the kicking game to win his team field possession and apply the slow squeeze, but it’s with ball in hand where he’s at his most dangerous. We saw a few glimpses of that vision and innovation when he was with the Stormers in 2013, the performance against the Brumbies in Cape Town (the Stormers scored four tries) being the highlight. The Lions won’t compete for a play-off place this year, and it will take some time to readjust to this level of competition. Jantjies has the benefit of having played Super Rugby in 2013, but with his forwards set for a tough time, he won’t receive a steady supply of front-foot ball with which to attack. It’s for this reason we will have to be content with a few flashes of brilliance rather than a steady show of control typical of No 10s in more settled teams.
FRANS STEYN (SHARKS)
Steyn is a match-winner. He’s clinched some big Tests for the Boks – think of the two drop goals against Australia in 2007 and the penalty in the monumental win at the House of Pain in 2009, to name but two – and has also been hailed for his consistent contributions as a ball-carrier and tactical kicker. It was Steyn’s physicality that helped the Sharks to an unlikely win in the 2013 Currie Cup final against Western Province, and it’s that sort of gainline dominance the Sharks will expect in the 2014 Super Rugby competition. His prodigious boot is an asset whether it’s used to win territory, hit drop goals, or kick long-range penalties. Many will argue that there are more exciting players in that Sharks backline worthy of mention, but none of them are as important to the Durban side’s prospects. Perhaps it is that ability to bisect the posts from within his own half that is most valuable. Indeed, at the 2011 World Cup, many opposition teams admitted that the threat of Steyn’s siege-gun boot had forced them to alter their tactics. Opposing sides in the Super Rugby tournament will feel the same way. Steyn is that sort of player, one who invades the very psyche of the opposition.
DEMETRI CATRAKILIS (STORMERS)
The sooner the Stormers realise Catrakilis is the future at flyhalf, the sooner they will move towards a more complete game plan. Catrakilis kicked Western Province to victory in the 2012 Currie Cup final over the Sharks, and spearheaded some famous wins for the Southern Kings in their debut Super Rugby season in 2013. Now back with the Stormers, who boast a solid pack of forwards and the best defensive system in Super Rugby, he will be expected to contribute in the tactical kicking department and provide the Cape side with what they have lacked for too long: a means to win the territorial battle. An underrated player on attack, Catrakilis’s decision-making and vision often meant the difference for the Kings in 2013. His excellent goal-kicking and penchant for the drop goal during the 2013 tournament marked him as one of the standout newcomers to the competition, and opposition teams should be wary of that threat in 2014. It may be a stretch to suggest Catrakilis will prove the answer to all the Stormers’ attacking problems, but his inclusion should at the very least see them improving on their poor 2013 campaign and competing strongly for a semi-final berth in 2014.
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