Cape Town - JP Pietersen is hoping that his landmark 50th game in the Springbok team will see a better performance from him than he believes he delivered against Wales at the Millennium Stadium last Saturday.
The right wing, one of four Bok backline players in the current team to have experienced the World Cup triumph in 2007, will lead the side out onto the Murrayfield turf on Sunday as he celebrates his landmark achievement. He feels that after 50 games a player has earned the right to the honour of leading the side onto the field, but says the occasion will only be complete if he is part of a winning effort.
And far from being satisfied with the 24-15 win over the European champions, Wales, last weekend, Pietersen feels there is a lot of improvement that is needed.
“I wasn’t happy with my performance last week. I thought I was quite rusty,” said Pietersen after the team announcement in Edinburgh on Wednesday.
“Perhaps it was a bit hard for us to get into the combinations in Cardiff because it had been a while since some of us had played together. But after the game we got together and spoke as a team, and we decided that we could be much better all round. We felt we had a strong opening to the first half and then let ourselves down after that.
“We went off the boil a bit in the latter part of the half, and we started to give away stupid penalties. It felt like every time we were on the front foot we would spoil it by giving away a penalty. That impacted on my own attempts to get into the game as it was hard to play off No 9 or No 10 when mistakes were being made that made it hard to do. We were all quite hard on each other in the wash-up afterwards.”
Pietersen agrees that it was a difficult adjustment to make to Test rugby after spending the last few months playing in Japan. Although he feels he has improved some of his skills through hard work on his own on the training fields, there are some aspects of the game as it is played over here that were hard to replicate.
“The aerial game that we played in Cardiff isn’t something you get much of in Japan, there were lots of things that were different, and in Japan I play in the midfield and not on the wing. That means I am not under a high ball very often, and I have needed to get used to that again,” he said.
“However what helps me in Japan is that like a lot of the overseas guys I try to get in as many extras as possible after training, which means I just try and work myself until I am tired. As a professional player you know you need to do that to maintain a certain standard.”
But the best way to get ready for test match rugby is to play in a high intensity game, and for both Pietersen and fellow Japanese migrant Jaque Fourie the ice has now been broken and the minutes spent on the field should hold them in good stead for a match that Pietersen is expecting to be quite tough.
“Every time we come here everyone seems to expect us to win easily, but we know it is never easy to play against the Scots. They are good at the breakdowns and that is going to be a really crucial area for us to get right on Sunday. They will be aggressive there. They also keep the ball for several phases once they win it, so we are going to have to be patient on defence and not give penalties away like we did last week.”
Pietersen says he remembers his first game in the green and gold like it was yesterday. It was the 2006 Tri-Nations match against Australia in Johannesburg, a game where he played fullback. He had played much of his rugby for the Sharks in the last line of defence up to him, but it is not a position he has played again at international level.
“I played fullback in that game because Percy Montgomery was being rested, but when he came back into rugby later on it was a no-brainer that with all his experience he had to be selected back into the fullback position. Percy was a real legend of the South African game and he helped me a lot in my first years as a first class rugby player.
“I was quite wild and rough in those days and Percy kept me on the straight and narrow and taught me the value of working hard for what you want.”
The wing counts his debut match and the World Cup as his most memorable experiences in international rugby. He still has ambitions of playing another World Cup and while he will return to Japan after the tour, he will be available for the Sharks in Super Rugby before returning to Japan again next August.
“Being in Japan has been an eye-opener and I think that is the best thing I can say for the experience. It is so new off the field. I think what I most miss is Nandos chicken, and a good old fashioned braai. In Japan the closest we come to braaiing is when we roast a pig Tongan style on a spit."