Johannesburg - Sharks wing JP Pietersen returned to training this week and could make his return from a hand injury in his team’s vital Currie Cup clash against the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The Springbok wing had a pin removed last week after undergoing surgery in early August from the injury he picked up during the Super Rugby final, forcing him to miss the Rugby Championship concluding this week.
Pietersen appeared to be in little discomfort when he worked through some training routines with his Sharks team-mates at the Kings Park outer fields on Tuesday.
"JP’s come back to us, he hasn’t been passed fit or anything, but we’ll just see how he goes with his hand," Sharks assistant coach Hugh Reece-Edwards said.
"Hopefully later in the week he’ll be made available, but at the moment he’s just here to train.
"He seems to be in good spirits. I think he’s looking forward to playing again, but would like to play Currie Cup rugby first before being rushed into the top scene.
"But we don’t know if he’ll be ready this week or not," he said.
With or without Pietersen, the Sharks find themselves in a strong position to finish top of the competition log ahead of their trip to the Free State for their penultimate regular season clash.
John Plumtree’s men are currently second on the table, three points behind the Lions after edging out the Blue Bulls 13-12 in Durban last Friday, with their remaining match being against Griquas at home.
The Lions visit Kimberley this week, before facing the Bulls at home in the last round.
"We’re all in a position now where one loss takes you out of a possible home semi or a possible play-off even," Reece-Edwards said.
"Every inch is going to count, so at the moment we need to continue winning."
Meanwhile, the fourth-placed Cheetahs must win to keep their play-off hopes alive, while a loss could drag them into relegation territory.
"They’ll have to win this week to get into the play-offs," the assistant coach said.
"Every single result, half a result and every point is vital at this stage."
Reece-Edwards admitted they expected a tough battle against the Cheetahs in what was possibly one of the biggest games of the year.
"We’re looking forward to it," he added.
"It’s really a do-or-die clash for them, so they’re going to be extremely motivated for the match.
"For ourselves it’s a massive game if we want to end in that number one spot, so there’s no shortage of motivation. It’s probably the game that we really have to pick up at this stage of the year."