Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - JP Pietersen’s return from Japan has not just bolstered the Sharks resource base at wing.
According to the supersport.com JP_is_not_just_a_wing" rel="" target="_self">website, the Springbok is back in Durban after the completion of his overseas commitments for the season and will come into consideration for the Cell C Sharks team that takes on the Reds at Growthpoint Kings Park in Vodacom Super Rugby on Saturday.
The chances of Pietersen going straight back into the Sharks starting team have been strengthened by the sudden death of the father of the two Ndungane twins, Odwa and Akona.
Odwa was informed of the death on Monday and the 33 year old has been granted compassionate leave to be with his family in Umtata. In his absence, Pietersen looks a likely starter, although director of rugby/coach Jake White says he will assess his condition in training before selecting him. White also said that it was never a case of Pietersen just walking straight back into the first choice team.
However, neither has he ruled out the strong possibility, and nor has he forgotten that it was not as a wing that Pietersen made his international debut when he was coach of the Springboks back in 2006. When Pietersen took the field against Australia at Ellis Park in the final Tri-Nations game of that year, he was wearing the No 15 of fullback.
“It’s unlikely we will start with him straight away, but in saying that, I will have to have a look and see,” said White.
“With him it was never a case of waiting two or three weeks. We were never going to wait too long before selecting a player of his experience. If he’s ready to go, he will be considered. He’s already missed the first four weeks of the competition, so if he is ready to play, we will consider him for the Reds.
“And it wasn’t just a case of which wing - Odwa or Lwazi Mvovo would miss out. It has not been about JP threatening the two wingers for their places. I might consider him at outside centre or at fullback.”
What White might want to take into consideration is that when Pietersen went straight into the Springbok team on the recent end of year tour straight from Japanese club rugby, he was initially rusty (against Wales) but quickly got back to his best form after that (against Scotland and France).
In an interview during the tour, Pietersen said that he was working hard on his own on drills that he felt would ready him for his return to Super Rugby.
The Sharks team for the Reds game will be named on Thursday. Apart from the compassionate leave granted to Ndungane, White should have a full squad to choose from, although it is not clear at this stage whether the illness that prevented Patrick Lambie from playing against the Lions last week might be a complication.