Jan Serfontein will be looking to stamp his authority on the match when the Vodacom Bulls face the Force at Loftus on Saturday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
Handré Pollard received all the plaudits following the Bulls' victory over the Cheetahs, and rightfully so. He produced one of the most complete performances seen by a South African flyhalf in recent years and contributed 29 points, while he was on hand to set up Serfontein's bonus-point try.
Having played together during the Junior Springboks' World Championship-winning campaign in 2012, the two have struck up quite an understanding. Serfontein who was named IRB Junior Player of the Year that year, while his teammate followed suit last year.
Both players were lauded as attacking ball-players, part of a new generation of South African backs. It's only Pollard, however, who has lived up to that billing. While Serfontein remains one of the best defensive backs around, his attacking game has receded in recent seasons.
The Bulls' one-off approach hasn't helped in this regard. Last season the Bulls ranked last for linebreaks and offloads, two key aspects of centre play. Serfontein's tendency to attack the player rather than the gap became apparent.
Against the Cheetahs, the Bulls were better, and Serfontein was allowed to prosper outside of Pollard. Against the porous Force defence on Saturday, he'll have plenty of opportunity to show he remains an accomplished attacker – he needs to make it count.
The Bulls have freshened things up a bit for this one, making three changes to their pack. Victor Matfield will start on the bench, replaced by Grant Hattingh in the second row, while Marcel van der Merwe and Dean Greyling are handed their first starts of the season.
The Force are not without changes of their own, as Sias Ebersohn returns at flyhalf. Luke Burton and Kyle Godwin will form a new midfield partnership, while Kane Koteka is handed his first start at openside flank.
If the Bulls are serious about their title prospects, they need to make off with five log points from matches like this one. The same goes for Serfontein, who needs to show there's more to his game than brute power.
Down in Cape Town, Damian de Allende is making a strong claim for the Springbok No 12 jersey in the absence of Jean de Villiers. It's time for Serfontein to do the same.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Bulls 4, Force 4
In Pretoria: Bulls 2, Force 1
STATS AND FACTS
– In the regular season, the Bulls have won their last 15 at home to Australian sides, last losing in February 2007; however that defeat was inflicted by the Force.
– The Force have averaged more time in possession than any other side this season (16 minutes, 32 seconds).
– The Bulls have the best ruck success rate this year (96%).
– The Force have the worst tackling success rate this season, making just 83% of their tackles so far in 2015.
– The Force have also averaged the fewest clean breaks this season, making just 4.2 per game.
– The Bulls, along with the Brumbies, have averaged the most points per game this season (28); this is due in part to their goal-kicking success rate in Super Rugby this season (86%).
– Handré Pollard is the second highest point-scorer so far this season (72) and has so far averaged the most points per game of any player (18).
– In the Bulls’ last match against the Cheetahs, Pollard joined an exclusive club of just nine Super Rugby players to score at least a try, a conversion, a penalty goal and a drop goal in the same match. The other players in this club are Carlos Spencer (1996), Andrew Mehrtens (1998), Glen Jackson (2001), André Pretorius (2003), Morné Steyn (2008), Kurtley Beale (2008), Quade Cooper (2011 & 2013) and Johan Goosen (2014).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Bulls||Handré Pollard (72)||Deon Stegmann, Handré Pollard, Jan Serfontein (2)||Jesse Kriel (353)||Lappies Labuschagne (65)|
|Force||Luke Burton (12)||Alby Mathewson, Angus Cottrell, Chris Alcock, Francois van Wyk, Luke Morahan, Mitchell Scott, Steve Mafi, Tetera Faulkner (1)||Zack Holmes (215)||Ben McCalman (44)|
Bulls – 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Handrè Pollard, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Mornè Mellett, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Victor Matfield, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Jürgen Visser.
Force – 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Luke Burton, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Kane Koteka, 6 Steve Mafi, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Sam Wykes (c), 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Subs: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Oliver Hoskins/Guy Millar, 19 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 20 Angus Cottrell, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Solomoni Jnr Rasolea.
Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix