JP, Juan give Div RWC hope
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
JP Pietersen and Juan Smith (Gallo Images)
Wellington - If certain of the World Cup-winning Springbok "class of 2007" are presently providing some reasons for concern ahead of the 2011 tournament, the fortunes of at least two of them appear to be heading upward once more - to the clear delight of Bok coach Peter de Villiers.
Both JP Pietersen and Juan Smith, key members of Jake White's successful outfit of four years ago who played the full 80 minutes of the Stade de France final against England, have had injury problems more recently.
But both are showing encouraging signs - even if they are at very different stages of rehabilitation - that they will offer freshening qualities for the Boks later in the year.
Wing-cum-fullback Pietersen has already excelled in early Super Rugby comeback activity for the Sharks, whilst De Villiers revealed at a press briefing here on Wednesday that he had visited the recovering Cheetahs captain only a day earlier.
Yeoman blindside flank servant Smith is racing against time to make the World Cup cut after tearing his Achilles tendon, and De Villiers said the signs were good at this stage.
"I thought I might encounter a slightly grumpy, frustrated rugby player, but I was pleasantly surprised. His body language was great.
"He understands that this might be his last World Cup, and the fact that he might be ready for it is keeping him going at the moment.
He's out of his cast and will start his rehab programme in the next two to three weeks.
"Juan is very important to us. He's one of the players who understands the gain line and understands the defensive organisation close to the rucks."
Referring to the long-striding Pietersen, who is capable of providing known game-breaking qualities to the Boks, De Villiers told Sport24:
"Yes, he's the one who hasn't played a lot since 2008; every year he's (had to) miss a few Tests and part of the Super Rugby season too.
"And you can see that suddenly there's some more excitement back in the man's rugby.
"I thought once that JP Pietersen was out on his feet. I called him in a few times and said 'JP, you're not giving me anything ... you're just there, when I know what you can (potentially offer). Do I have to wait for it?'
"But suddenly he's back ... there are many players I believe can be fresh and rested for us, come the World Cup. We didn't plan it, but injuries can actually help a lot (in that respect)."