Springbok wing JP Pietersen is making it hard for the Sharks selectors to consider him in his usual position as he continues to build on his impressive start to the year in the experimental position of outside centre.
Like his Springbok teammate Bryan Habana, Pietersen wore the No13 in the most recent Super Rugby warm-up fixture, and according to witnesses he was in sublime form in the Sharks’ 62-0 rout of a Boland Cavaliers team that was competitive in the first half but couldn’t stand up to the home team’s intensity over 80 minutes.
Most of the Sharks’ points were scored after halftime as the Cape team ran out of gas, but throughout the game the new Sharks midfield combination of former Western Province star Tim Whitehead and Pietersen were stand-out performers.
When changes were made later on, former Bok Marius Joubert, Meyer Bosman and Sevens star Paul Jordaan also broke the Boland defensive line at will, leaving Sharks coach John Plumtree with a pleasant conundrum in an area where last year his team struggled.
Both Joubert and Bosman had fitness issues in 2011 – Joubert arrived from France not conditioned to South African standards and Bosman was out for injured for most of the off-season before his first year with the Sharks – but are in tip top shape now and Plumtree reckons that in the coming months we will see their true worth.
“What I was really happy with in the game against Boland was the level of intensity and the way we kept that intensity throughout the game. The fitness work during the off-season has obviously paid off,” said Plumtree.
Frederic Michalak, playing scrumhalf, was reportedly the pick of the Sharks players, and he is going to push Charl McLeod for the right to start in the No9 jersey in the match against the Bulls in two weeks. But another player who could force a selection poser is impressive No8 Marcell Coetzee, one of the stand-outs of last year’s Currie Cup. He was excellent against Boland and Ryan Kankowski will have competition for his starting spot.
For now though there might be place for Coetzee and Kankowski to play in the same back row as both Willem Alberts and Jean Deysel are only expected back on the playing field a couple of games into Super Rugby.
Alberts has a shoulder problem which will see him hopefully make his seasonal debut in the first home match in the third week (the Sharks start with away fixtures against the Bulls and Stormers), while Deysel is struggling with the same knee injury that has plagued him for the past two years and will at best be ready in time to leave with the Sharks when they go on tour towards the end of March.
The Sharks complete their preparations for the new season with a match against the Kings this coming weekend. After mixing and matching his combinations against the Cavaliers, Plumtree is likely to give us a preview in that match of what his team for the Bulls clash in Pretoria on Friday week will look like.