JP Pietersen has been recalled to the Springbok squad for Saturday’s Test against the All Blacks at Loftus Versfeld and for the sake of the World Cup he simply has to play.
The 21-year-old toured Australasia with the Boks on their away leg of the Vodacom Tri-Nations but played no part in the three games and was subsequently released to gain some game time with the Sharks.
With the All Blacks securing the Tri-Nations trophy on Saturday, many pundits have called for some experimentation in the Bok lineup, with Pietersen’s name being pushed to the forefront of that argument.
But Jake White has been reluctant to exclude Percy Montgomery in the face of the lack of another recognised goalkicker, and the young Sharks utility back is certain to watch from the bench at Loftus Versfled, at least for the first 60 minutes.
Pietersen shone in his side’s narrow Absa Currie Cup loss against the Lions on Saturday. His ability to sear open the opposition defense on the counter-attack from deep is something Montgomery has been lacking this season, and with the World Cup eleven months away, White has to be decisive now about Pietersen’s role in the team.
If given an opportunity, he could play in the three remaining home Tri-Nations Tests, three on the Boks year-end tour, three season opening Test matches in June next year and a further six Tri-Nations Tests in 2007, before the showpiece tournament in France.
That’s a potential 1200 minutes of Test rugby against the leading nations in the world, and more than enough experience at international level to have an idea of what he could offer the team.
The Bok selectors have to formulate a definitive plan now, not only for Pietersen but other fringe players.
If not, we have to consign ourselves now to another quarter-final exit and the inevitable “what if” questions that have become all too familiar with previous Springbok World Cup campaigns.
By Ryan Vrede