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    Pietersen could help at No 10

    2012-04-17 11:19

    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 midfield?

    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 thought?

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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