Cape Town – JP Pietersen’s relative personal nightmare at
Twickenham may just prove to have bolted the door on his once illustrious Test
The tall, big-striding wing was the major “fall guy” when
Springbok coach Allister Coetzee named his match-day 23 on Thursday for the match
against Italy in Florence this weekend.
From a start against England last Saturday – his 65th in
that capacity, and 70th cap overall – Pietersen has tumbled entirely
out of the mix for this Test, clearly playing a heavy price for his badly out-of-sorts
showing in the 37-21 reverse to England.
He is replaced by another veteran, the fit-again Bryan
Habana, on the left wing in one of two changed to the XV from London; the other
is more enforced, with Pieter-Steph du Toit returning to the second row from
flank in place of concussion-affected Eben Etzebeth and Nizaam Carr earning a
first-time start on the side of the scrum.
Pietersen scored lowest of all the Boks on the Sport24
performance card at “Twickers”, earning 3.5/10 for a strangely indecisive
effort both in limited attacking opportunities, but more specifically when
asked to backtrack under defensive pressure.
It was his fumble of a high ball that turned over possession
from a promising position for the Boks, at a time when they were right in the
contest at only 10-9 down in the 36th minute, and saw Courtney Lawes
score a converted try at the other end of the park.
That put the Boks a little demoralizingly out of range on
the scoreboard with halftime looming, and they never recovered from that rather
unnecessary seven-point concession.
Considering that Coetzee overlooked Pietersen for the
duration of the Rugby Championship after fielding him in the June series
against Ireland, this is a second occasion in which he has effectively been
deemed surplus to the coach’s requirements in a troubled season for the Boks
It hardly suggests that the former Sharks stalwart, who now
plies his trade in the English Premiership with Leicester Tigers, is still a
critical component of the Bok plans.
When he opted not to use him in the all-southern hemisphere
competition, Coetzee said he felt Pietersen could benefit from a pre-season
conditioning phase at his club, given that for several years the player has
often virtually sacrificed off-seasons; he used to play in Japan and then
quickly shift into Super Rugby mode for the Durban franchise.
But Twickenham did very little to suggest any fresh zest in
the 30-year-old, even if he could yet have two or three good years at the
highest level if he manages to recapture his premier, sometimes lethally
In truth, it has been a few years since Pietersen delivered
consistently compelling games for the Boks, and this marginalisation for the
Italy fixture could also mean -- if the national side finally “clicks” against
limited foes -- that he plays no role in the tour- and year-ending match
against Wales, either.
It is probably a little galling to him that he couldn’t even
crack the bench in Florence, bearing in mind that he offers utility
possibilities, not just as a wing on either side but also as an outside centre
or even fullback.
Pietersen actually started his Bok career as their
designated fullback, wearing No 15 against Australia at Ellis Park in 2006, a
match won 24-16, before he overwhelmingly operated at wing in the years that
He is one of a dwindling group of still-active – especially
in a Bok-availability sense – players from the glory days of 2007, when he
contributed fulsomely to the World Cup triumph under Jake White’s charge.
Apart from his replacement for this Test, Habana, the Du
Plessis brothers (Bismarck and Jannie) and sometimes rebellious Frans Steyn are
the only others from the triumphant class of 2007 still just about on the
Next season, the younger likes of Jamba Ulengo, Travis
Ismaiel and Leolin Zas may press even more strongly than this year for Test
recognition in wing slots, especially with a view to fresh faces coming into
the mix in time to be suitably street-wise for RWC 2019.
Pietersen remains too much of a talent to summarily write
But I’d say he’s flirting a little dangerously now with a
Bok cold shoulder for good …