Pietersen bolsters Bok options

2013-10-08 13:12
JP Pietersen (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - The almost certain return of JP Pietersen will give the Springbok backline a valuable extra cutting edge for their three-match tour of the northern hemisphere in November.

Bok insiders have indicated to Sport24 that there is no reason not to believe that the long-striding 27-year-old will be in the selection mix for the respective assignments against Wales, Scotland and France.

The Boks will be trying to emulate their achievement last year of going through the traditional end-of-year venture unbeaten, even if the 2012 tour produced uncomfortable nail-biters virtually throughout.

When Sharks favourite Pietersen signed his extremely lucrative two-year deal with Japanese outfit Panasonic Wild Knights earlier this year, his deal was specifically shaped in such a way that he can stay loyal to his Super Rugby franchise, while also being available for segments of the international season - including the end-of-year tour.

“JP, as a sign of his commitment to the Boks, will be in constant consultation with the Springbok management and will follow a strict conditioning programme to ensure he doesn’t arrive back from Japan out of shape in any way,” his agent James Adams had stressed at the time.

Nothing since has occurred - at least not publicly - to suggest that this harmonious arrangement is under any threat.

Pietersen last played in his familiar No 14 Bok jersey against England at Twickenham in the final Test of 2012, when South Africa sneaked home 16-15 to ensure the tour sweep and the player was a key contributor to the triumph.

London newspaper The Guardian paid the following tribute, in scoring him an eight out of 10 for personal performance: “A genuinely world-class player. Kicked and chased equally superbly. Not conditions that wings thrive in but defensive positioning was spot-on.”

Considering the ease with which veteran scrumhalf Fourie du Preez has fitted back in, Bok coach Heyneke Meyer is unlikely to have any major reservations about the younger Pietersen quickly getting his Test mojo back.

It should also be the tour where he reaches 50 appearances for South Africa, an additional incentive for him to slot in seamlessly; Pietersen currently stands on 48 caps, after making his debut against Australia back in 2006.

What makes him a particularly attractive prospect for the Bok tour squad - at a time of year when many in their ranks will be vulnerable to fatigue after many months of high-level combat - is his utility value even if, frankly, he ought to be a shoe-in for his position on the right wing anyway given his indisputable pedigree.

A back three of the mercurial Willie le Roux - perhaps restored to fullback after his own stint at No 14? - plus established game-breakers Bryan Habana and Pietersen would lack very little in oomph on the Euro venture.

In fairness, the much-maligned Zane Kirchner has lifted his personal bar a bit at No 15 in recent Test matches, although the problem with him is that even his best games for the Boks tend to be not significantly more than average - he offers little that is unexpected.

Also to consider is that on heavier, slower northern hemisphere winter pitches Kirchner’s generally safe, conservative game arguably comes in more useful than elsewhere: at the very least he warrants retention in broadest Bok plans.

But another player yet to genuinely nail down his Springbok place is outside centre JJ Engelbrecht, and if Meyer doesn’t fancy altering the status quo in his back three, Pietersen is more than capable of sticking his hand up for the not yet truly adhesive
No 13 jersey as midfield partner for ever-impressive captain Jean de Villiers.

It is a role he has played for the Sharks with some success before, whilst he is also no stranger to the fullback chore, although the 1.90m and suitably robust 103kg specimen has not occupied that berth for a long time and his line-kicking game is not a particularly strong suit.

But just having Pietersen back in the squad will be a great fillip for the Boks in a few weeks: unless the Japanese league has strangely blunted his game, he is too good not to have on the park for his country as much as possible.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing



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