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Rugby | Vodacom Super Rugby

Serfontein sparks Bulls selection dilemma

The pre-season performance of a number of young stars – and especially midfielder Jan Serfontein – has reignited the selection dilemma that Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke faces this season.

Ludeke has publicly admitted that his approach in 2012 wasn’t the correct one, erring on the side of conservatism with his senior players and not giving his youth brigade a start.

Louis Fouche for instance, played the entire season behind Morne Steyn, not getting a look-in at a starting role. The policy also saw the exodus of CJ Stander, one of the brightest prospects now plying his trade in Ireland, who couldn’t hold down a starting place despite some incredible form.

Saturday’s pre-season win against the Lions has only underlined the shift in policy that is needed at the Bulls, and one that Ludeke fully realises. But how to manage this dilemma will be a telling part of how the Bulls do in the competition this year.

Jan Serfontein is clearly an incredible talent. The IRB Junior Player of the year excels at every challenge given to him thus far and on Saturday looked head and shoulders above his peers once again. His combination with Lionel Mapoe could develop into a masterstroke, while Handre Pollard’s arrival on the field upped both the tempo at a crucial time in the game.

Both these players are clearly set for higher things in future and it won’t be long until we see both Serfontein and Pollard in the Green and Gold if they continue at this rate. Given the success of the Stormers’ youth campaign over the past two seasons, it leaves Ludeke will a quandary on selection.

This weekend’s game against the Toyota Cheetahs in Polokwane is likely to see Wynand Olivier return to the midfield with either Francois Venter or JJ Engelbrecht, while Ludeke may decide to give the two young stars a run off the bench to see how they slot in among the bigger names in the team.

The Bulls know all too well how important their opener against the Stormers is in terms of setting the standard for the season, and with this in mind, it won’t be surprising if Ludeke opts for the more experienced hands in the opening match.

But the reality is now that there are others knocking, and Ludeke will have to take notice in bringing the young talent through.

The coach was happy with the hitout, which also saw good performances by the likes of Jurgen Visser, Jano Vermaak, Arno Botha, Sampie Mastriet and Grant Hattingh.

“A win always is good because you get a reward for the hard work, but we know it is nothing more than a warm-up game,” Ludeke said. “The competition starts in three weeks and that is where we want to be at our best. There are definitely some areas we need to work on, like ball retention and making better decisions.”

“We need a squad of players who can push each other during this game, and he is one of them. He put up his hand today. The players have set high standards for themselves this season and have worked hard in the off-season.”

Ludeke will know after the second pre-season clash where exactly his squad stands ahead of the opening game, and then some tough choices will have to be made.

Timing and mentoring will be crucial for the young talent in the squad, but then again, as Serfontein proved again on Saturday, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.


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