Pietersen pretender no more

RYAN VREDE says JP Pietersen has rediscovered his touch to become the Sharks’ most influential and dangerous backline player. Restricting his space and time will be one of the Stormers’ most pressing assignments.

In pre-season I wrote that a move to midfield had the potential to rejuvenate Pietersen, who in my view had become stale and uninspiring. And while he was certainly competent in midfield, he wasn’t dynamic, forcing me to reassess my position.

There were mitigating factors, of course, not least of all that the Sharks’ heavies were poor impostors of the platform-laying force they would later become. Pietersen’s potency on his return to the wing has its roots in the physicality and industry of his forwards. This was sorely lacking in his time in midfield.

That said, wing is undoubtedly the position he is best suited to. The defensive demands of outside centre in particular made him a vulnerability there. He is skilled at every discipline of wing play and the comfort and confidence that brings and stirs has been reflected in his play.

Pietersen strikes me as a players who needs a challenge to thrive. Some players do so in a comfort zone, where such a state is counter-productive for him and often reflected in poor conditioning. I’d venture a guess that coach John Plumtree, a man renowned for his astute man management, would have discussed and detailed his expectations with Pietersen. He would have been forthright in his view that Pietersen’s standards had dropped but would also committed to helping him regain the form that made him one of the best wingers in the world in his early career.

Pietersen too would have indulged in a concerted bout of introspection. The result is the pretender has given way to a wholly better version of himself.

Of his five tries, four have come in the last five matches. But his threat has transcended try-scoring. His experience has been key in the backline. His work rate has been deeply impressive, with forays to the opposite wing or guess-who appearances in midfield a throwback to a peak in 2007 and indicative of better conditioning. I stress a peak because Pietersen, at 26 years old, always had more to offer, albeit packaged differently from the care-free teen who emerged in 2006. It was always for him to determined whether he wanted to stew in his mediocrity or sizzle once more.

Now, burning white-hot, Pietersen represents a significant challenge to the Stormers. He has shown his capacity to score or craft scoring opportunities if given space and time to work. The Stormers have been consistently effective at cutting the source of their opponents’ outside backs’ service. However, the Sharks have been one of the few sides who have bossed them at the gainline this season, which has earned them the right to go wide.

How the Stormers fare in this regard will be decisive to the outcome. Pietersen will be determined to continue this journey of rediscovery and that is ominous for the Cape side.

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