JP Pietersen (Gallo)
Bagshot - Springbok wing JP Pietersen is
convinced playing in Japan "opened my mind" though it may not have
prepared him for the biggest Rugby World Cup shock ever.
The 29-year-old, whose steps up his quest
for a second World Cup title against Wales in a Twickenham quarter-final on
Saturday, joined the Panasonic Wild Knights for the 2013-14 Japanese Top
Not all countries approve of players going
abroad. And there has long been a view that foreign players only joined
Japanese clubs, bankrolled by large industrial corporations, for the money.
But with no clash of seasons, Pietersen was
able to turn out for the Durban-based Sharks in the southern hemisphere Super
Pietersen, who has played under New
Zealander Robbie Deans, a former Australia coach, at the Wild Knights was in no
doubt about the benefits.
"Playing in Japan opened my mind, in
terms of running better angles, understanding the game and being in good positions,"
said 2007 World Cup-winner Pietersen, who has scored 22 tries in his 63 Tests,
"Japan is a fast game reliant on
skills rather than physicality," added Pietersen at the South African team
base in Bagshot near London.
"Being coached by New Zealanders and
Australians gives you a mix of everything and that helps you come out of a
bubble and challenge yourself."
South Africa scrapped a ban on overseas
players appearing for the Springboks in 2008 and Australia softened their hard-line
stance ahead of the World Cup.
England, however, upheld their policy of
picking only home-based players, amid calls for flank Steffon Armitage, who
plays for French giants Toulon to be selected.
With England becoming the first World Cup
host nation to fail to qualify for the knockout stages, there have been calls
for a re-think.
Pietersen is one of many Springboks in the
World Cup squad with Japanese connections, including the Suntory pair of Schalk
Burger and Fourie du Preez.
Yet despite plenty of 'inside knowledge',
South Africa were beaten 34-32 by Japan in their opening match - the biggest
upset in World Cup history.
South Africa bounced back to win their next
three games to top Pool B.
"It was definitely emotional after the
Japan game," said Pietersen. "We opened up and had a hard session
with ourselves and what we did wrong. We let ourselves down and our country
"That's part of rugby - it's all about
testing the character. Our character has been tested since game two."
South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer also told
how the defeat reinforced the team.
"Losing to Japan was a very tough day,
but we had to learn from it. There have not been leaders in times of peace,
it's when there is war that leadership and character come through," Meyer
Pietersen added: "I wasn't surprised
the way Japan played. That's how they play rugby. Everyone can see now that
they play some good rugby in Japan.
"We had analysed them and we were all
prepared, but what let us down was our penalties."
Pietersen said discipline would be vital
against Wales, who would punish any lapses through the boot of Dan Biggar.
"Wales put pressure on the opposition
and they have a good goal-kicker," said Pietersen.
"We have talked about being more
patient in defence and not giving away penalties this week."
Saturday's match could be a landmark
occasion for South Africa wing Bryan Habana.
The Springbok star needs just one more try
to surpass Jonah Lomu's record of 15 World Cup tries and Australia great David
Campese's Test career total of 64 tries - the most by a player from a Tier One
or major nation.
"He gets better as he gets
older," said Pietersen of the 32-year-old Habana, a veteran of 114 Tests.
"When we need something big, Bryan Habana always steps up."
"He's one of the great (number) 11s
that has played the game," added Pietersen ahead of his 42nd international
start alongside Habana.