RYAN VREDE writes JP Pietersen hasn’t advanced his Springboks cause with his switch to outside centre.
I wrote in the pre-season that the move to midfield could rejuvenate Pietersen. However, on the evidence of what I’ve seen that belief was misplaced. Pietersen’s willingness to fill a void in the Sharks’ line-up deserves acknowledgement. But he has undoubtedly compromised his international future. Nine matches into his new role Pietersen has done little to convince that he could be a Test-standard outside centre.
Certainly for a player who has spent the majority of his professional career on the wing the transition has been impressive. He is competent in all the key performance areas of the position, but he hasn’t displayed the aptitude that would point to him being a force in elevated company.
Pietersen’s success has certainly been undermined by the Sharks’ mediocrity. Their pack has seldom established a platform of any note and as a result the back division have rarely had the space to exploit. He has shown fleeting glimpses of what he is capable of when offered such space, but the best 13s have the ability to operate in constrained confines. Even as a wing this wasn’t a strength of Pietersen’s.
Jaque Fourie was skilled in such situations and before he announced his unavailability Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer had intended to install him as his premier outside centre for the mid-year Test series against England as well as for the Rugby Championship. My colleague Jon Cardinelli wrote on the expected impact of Fourie’s loss last week and examined who the contenders are to fill the significant void he leaves.
Pietersen is well back in that queue. My understanding is that Meyer doesn’t see him as a midfielder and still believes he is best suited to wing. But others have jumped ahead of him in the latter pecking order, most notably Bjorn Basson, who Meyer believes has the skill set suited to the kick-chase approach he will employ.
This leaves Pietersen in a difficult position. He can request a return to wing. This may be the best course of action in the context of his international ambitions. The Sharks, however, will be reluctant to accommodate such a request as they seem to have doubts over Marius Joubert’s ability, evident by their promotion of Pietersen ahead of him and his consistent omission from the match 22s.
But if Pietersen has his own best interests in mind he would insist on a return to his favoured position. With the Sharks’ struggle for attacking momentum don’t expect him to suddenly return to prominence. But at least he will succeed or fail on his own terms.