IF THE perfect day existed in rugby, Springbok U20 centre Jan Serfontein went close to achieving it on 22 June. Not only did he win the Junior World Championship in front of 35,000 compatriots, but in the process he defeated rivals New Zealand 22-16 and touched down with the crucial score.
It capped a superb campaign from the powerful inside-centre from Port Elizabeth, who succeeded George Ford in being voted IRB Junior Player of the Year. Serfontein, 19, is the first South African to win the award, and the first to receive an IRB age-grade honour since Pat Barnard was named the IRB U21 Player of the Year in 2002. Chatting to the amiable youngster, he is humility personified. “It was incredible to win the JWC and to score the winning try just topped the occasion off.”
Schooled at the prestigious Grey College in Port Elizabeth, which has produced Bismarck du Plessis and Frans Steyn, Serfontein has had to get used to attention of his own.
“I got noticed after winning the JWC but luckily I’m back at the Blue Bulls now, so no one is making a fuss, which is how I like it.” As for his first objective, it’s simply to make the Bulls squad. “I’m still young and I have Springboks Wynand Olivier and JJ Engelbrecht to contend with. I must be patient.”
As an admirer of Sonny Bill Williams, he relishes being close to the action. “I like No 12 as I get my hands on the ball, but I’m not too bothered as long as I’m in the team.”
Rugby World Verdict: Another stellar talent from the Grey College production line. Owain Jones
IAIN HENDERSON made quite an impact on his Pro12 debut for Ulster in May. Early in the second half, receiving the ball in midfield and with quick feet that belied his 6ft 6in, 18st 1lb frame, he managed to evade four Munster defenders to stretch out and score in a manner Stephen Ferris would have been proud of.
So where was the wild celebration from the Ireland U20 lock? “I was absolutely shattered, but that’s what it should be like if you’re giving your all.” Wise words coming from a 20-year-old but unsurprising given his rugby background.
“My family are rugby-mad. Dad played rugby for Academy RFC in Belfast and I played there until I went to study at Queen’s University, Belfast.”
Although a handy player as a youngster, it’s only in the past year that his career has been fast-tracked. “I was picked up for Ulster U20 and pretty soon that led to a national call-up, so I’m thrilled,” he says.
Henderson was part of the Ireland U20 squad that this year secured their best-ever JWC finish of fifth, beating eventual winners South Africa in the pool stages. “We were chuffed with our Junior World Championship performances because you only get one shot at it. We really gelled and it showed in our performances.”
Next up for Henderson is to break into the Ulster squad. “I want to get a look in the match-day squad. So far the likes of Chris Henry and David Drake, the Ulster Academy fitness coach, have kept an eye out for us and I’m loving every minute.”
Rugby World Verdict: Henderson has already proved he has the ability for the big occasion. Owain Jones
This article appeared in the September 2012 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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