JP Pietersen could blow up or blow out in 2008. Either way, it’ll be spectacular.
Courtesy of Keo.co.za
Last season heralded the arrival of the potent attacking threat many believed Pietersen could be since he broke onto the Super Rugby scene in 2006. Even when he debuted at fullback in the Springboks’ final Tri-Nations game of that year, there were still serious questions around his readiness for Super Rugby, let alone his ability to cope with the demands of Test rugby.
Sharks coach Dick Muir and former Springbok coach Jake White, however, saw a potential match winner behind the rough exterior, and set about peeling away the layers of imperfection, of which Pietersen admits there were, and still are, many.
Today the 21-year-old is a World Cup winner, whose try saving tackle against Fiji in the quarter-final of the tournament, was arguably the decisive moment of the Springboks’ campaign.
Last year he finished as the leading try scorer (12) in the Super 14, leaving IRB Player of the Year Bryan Habana four tries in his wake. That will make him a marked man in 2008, but Pietersen is braced for the spotlight .
“I expect to be watched more closely this season and that’s a good challenge,” Pietersen told keo.co.za.
“Last year I don’t think I was particularly good, despite scoring all those tries. There were valid questions around my kicking game and defence, and my concentration would wane in matches. I’d do something really good, then mess up badly two minutes later. That sort of inconsistency really bothers me. I want to get my game to a place where I’m making positive contributions all the time.
“If my game stays at the same place it was last year, I’ll probably have no impact this season. So in that sense 2008 could be a defining year for me.”
A great player, former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh said, is one who does the basics right all of the time, and not one who does great things some of the time.
Pietersen doesn’t dispute the suggestion that up to this point in his career he’s fallen into the first category, and makes no secret of the fact that he believes he has a way to go before he reaches a level of consistency that would make him worthy of the latter billing.
“I don’t fear failure. I never have,” he said when asked if he does, or has ever has been tormented by self-doubt. “Being in an environment like the Sharks where we are encouraged to try different things and play instinctively without fear that you’ll have coaches nailing you if something goes wrong has helped a lot.
“So did Percy [Montgomery] when he was here,” he continued, lamenting the departure of the Sharks’ veteran fullback. He would often come over to me in matches and calm me down if something had gone wrong, or rein me in when I was getting a little too excited. He looked after Frans [Steyn] and I brilliantly, and to not have him around is taking some getting used to.”
So what does the relative rookie make of being a “senior” player in the Sharks backline now? After all, it’s just a couple of years ago that his loping stride was on show at Craven Week for the Pumas, and even more recently still that he was goofing around with the ambitious bucks from the Sharks academy.
“Ja, time has gone so fast,” he said. “One minute I’m hoping to get game time in the Vodacom Cup and the next I’m in St Denis lifting the World Cup with the Springboks.
“It’s difficult to even see myself as a senior player, although after a couple of years playing in the Super 14 and with the Springboks, coupled with the fact that we have a very young squad at the Sharks, I guess I have to embrace the role. It’s not something I feel any pressure about because it’s a collective effort. Almost everyone in the Sharks backline has played international rugby, so we help each other as opposed to one player guiding the rest.
“That has its benefits, in the sense that it forces you to learn quickly so that you don’t repeat the same errors, but it was nice also having a guy like Percy there ensuring that you didn’t have to make the same mistakes that he did.”
By Ryan VredeTweet