A year ago JP Pietersen couldn’t stop scoring. Six matches into the tournament and he’s failed to get off the mark.
Scoring opportunities, admittedly, have been scarce for the winger. The Sharks, despite being placed second, have scored just 13 tries (the fourth lowest in the tournament). They didn’t look like turning it around against the rubble Reds in Durban on Saturday, despite conditions being good for an expansive approach. In fact, this campaign they have looked devoid of the attacking edge that had them billed as the one of the 2007 tournament’s great entertainers.
This must concern coach Dick Muir, who needs his side to find their attacking groove if they hope to return from their five-match Australasian tour with a home semi-final virtually wrapped up. What’s more, he needs the 2007 Pietersen to show up and punt the try thin 2008 version to the stand.
While Pietersen can be mitigated by the fact that he is receiving poor service from those inside him, the trademark quality of the world’s best wingers is their ability to work around the back – looking for scoring opportunities.
Bulls winger and IRB Player of the Year Bryan Habana is renowned for his work rate, and of the current crop of wingers the Stormers’ Tonderai Chavhanga (joint second highest try scorer) has shown a liking for appearing in the 10-12 channel, or on the opposite wing.
Pietersen needs to rekindle the hunger for try scoring he had last year, while those crafting the opportunities on his inside need to jack up their performances. The Hurricanes in Wellington is not the easiest place to go if you are struggling for form, but Pietersen and his team can take solace in the fact that they have leaked the most tries of the top four (16).
At this stage last season Pietersen was playing his part in the 59-16 demolition of the Reds in Brisbane – bagging a brace and tormenting defenders with his omnipresent nature. The wheel has turned quickly for Pietersen, who on Saturday cut a dejected figure as he watched the game pass him by.
On current form he has fallen back in the Springbok pecking order, with Chavhanga the standout winger, even ahead of Habana who was impressive against the Blues but needs more game time and more regular ball in hand opportunities to kick start his season.
Watching Pietersen plod through the first six matches of the tournament has been painful and the Sharks have to take collective responsibility for their ballistic missile failing to fire at present.
They’ve promised that they’ll bust through their try drought. JP Pietersen needs that to happen very soon.
By Ryan Vrede