Pretorius eyes unfamiliar 14 jersey

Lions centre Jaco Pretorius could run out on the wing for the Springboks when they take on Ireland and England next month.

The 26-year-old South African Sevens captain has been running on the right wing for the majority of the training camp in Johannesburg, and believes that the new position is both a challenging and exciting opportunity.

“I’m a realist,” he told Keo.co.za. “With Jean [de Villiers] and Jaque [Fourie] as the best and most likely starting centre combination, I need to look at other options.”

Akona Ndungane is the only specialist winger selected for the tour, with one of Pretorius (normally a centre), JP Pietersen (fullback) and Frans Steyn (flyhalf/fullback) expected to occupy the other berth. With his Sevens experience, Pretorius is a strong candidate, the angles of running exhibited in the Absa Currie Cup suggesting that he would be handful for defenders out wide.

“Playing on the wing means that you have to look for work, but it also means that you have more freedom to join the line,” he explained. “I also enjoy running off the ball carrier’s shoulder and having a bit more room to spot the gap.

“My Sevens experience will be useful in this regard, and I have also been lucky with the way I was allowed to express myself at the Lions.”

The free-flowing rugby displayed by the Lions or SA Sevens side is unlikely to be replicated in the muddy conditions of the Northern Hemisphere. A relatively conservative approach will be needed, but once again Pretorius is certain that he’s up to the task.

“I realise that I will have to play a lot closer to the ball and protect it more in those conditions. We expect them to test us with a lot of high balls as well, as we are lacking experience at the back.

“I have spoken to Allister Coetzee [the Bok backline coach] about it, and we will be well prepared. As far as adapting to a new position is concerned, a professional rugby player should have all the necessary ball skills to make these slight adjustments.

“I’m happy to adapt if it means fulfilling my dream of playing for the Springboks. I would pack down at hooker if they asked me to.”

As far as the step up to the big time goes, Pretorius is confident that he has played enough rugby to be successful at this level. He is vastly experienced as a Sevens player, but has only recently become a feature in the extended version of the game.

“I have played against guys like Mathew Tait at Sevens level already. Obviously the two games are completely different, but I will know what to expect from a lot of their players.”

By Jon Cardinelli