Pietersen could help at No 10
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – A silver lining for them is no lack of options
for Allister Coetzee and company as they wrestle the nasty little curveball of
potentially losing the Stormers’ acting captain and highly experienced inside
centre Jean de Villiers for several weeks.
The big challenge will be ensuring they employ the right
brew from the array of alternatives -- albeit with few that can confidently be
called “ideal”, given the significant blow of surrendering in-form veteran
Springbok De Villiers.
If they do not want to shuffle the cards too much, the reasonably
simple specialist swap involves promoting fringe midfielder JP du Plessis, who
only turns 21 on April 29 but is already a reasonably well-travelled customer
in both league and union terms and seems the logical, direct next in line.
But apart from very minor exposure with the Melbourne Rebels
last year, he is very much a rookie in Super Rugby so that factor will
doubtless weigh on the brains trust’s minds: do they feel confident enough to
actually start him alongside Juan de Jongh?
In the immediate aftermath of the rather sudden De Villiers
jolt, speculation has also surrounded a possible return to the midfield of
Bryan Habana from his infinitely more customary post on the left wing.
But the former IRB player of the year has been in such
refreshingly rejuvenated form there of late that perhaps he is best left to his
strongest suit right now after bravely battling his way out of a strangely
sub-standard phase of his career.
Less discussed has been another possibility: how about Joe
Pietersen, who has been in positively electric, broad footballing form on the
Australasian tour so far, being engaged much closer to the action at No 10,
with Peter Grant thus handed the No 12 shirt and partnering De Jongh in
Pietersen has operated at flyhalf before with some success
at first-class level for Western Province, and would help ensure that an
important, string-pulling backline “spine” from scrumhalf to outside centre would
retain a strong, comforting semblance of street wisdom: Dewaldt Duvenage,
Pietersen, Grant and De Jongh in that order.
Grant, not for nothing nicknamed Bash, certainly has the
tactical nous and defensive relish to do justice to the slot De Villiers
vacates, and whilst Pietersen’s nippiness and diminutive status is obviously
better suited to operating from the back, he is no shrinking violet as a
tackler and gets increasingly decent range on his line kicks – good assets for
a No 10.
Just as satisfying under the circumstances would be the
Stormers’ ability – assuming that he is fully fit again to face the Reds in
Brisbane on Friday after a relatively minor injury – to simply slot Gio Aplon
into the fullback role to fill the Pietersen void there.
It is arguably the position where his sometimes dazzling
attacking and counter-attacking footwork is best allowed to flourish, and just
maybe his return there from a wing berth -- either in the very short-term or
for a bit longer than that – could give the Stormers the try-scoring X-factor
some critics believe they slightly lack at present.
Certainly I believe the Stormers would not be let down,
under present circumstances, with a backline looking like this: 15 Gio Aplon,
14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Peter Grant, 11 Bryan Habana,
10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage.
Given that it should cause relatively little disruption to
the team’s lauded defensive structure, among other things, might it be food for
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