Stepping off a plane from Tokyo and into the Sharks team to play the Reds in Durban would be a leap into the deep end for most but for JP Pietersen last week’s dramatic comeback was like dipping his toe in the shallow end compared to the last time Jake White took a chance on him.
At just 20, Pietersen was picked in the uncustomed position of fullback to make his debut for the Boks in the 2006 Tri-Nations Test against Australia at Ellis Park, and did just fine before later settling down as one of the first-choice wings at the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
He says that debut was as spine-tingling as it can get, but sevens years later he takes sudden inclusions in teams in his lanky stride. Last November, he came from nowhere – well Japan actually – to start on the wing in Heyneke Meyer’s Springbok touring team, and last week he had no choice but to shrug off the jet lag and get stuck in against the Reds when Odwa Ndungane and Paul Jordaan were unavailable for selection.
It is all in a days’s work, he says, and so it should be for a 27-year-old that has played 51 Tests and 99 Super Rugby games.
This week he hopes to be more assured in his play when he earns his 100th cap in the match against the Bulls in Pretoria.
“I trained for this (returning to Super Rugby) when I was in Japan,” he says. “When I was home over Christmas, I chatted to Jake and got an update on the plans going forward. I knew what shape I had to be in.
“It’s great to be back, I was a bit rusty in my first game back, but it was just really nice to be in the Sharks team again after six months away,” he said. “It’s good to join a Sharks side that is winning and playing good rugby. I watched them from Japan and they’re looking really good. It wasn’t that easy coming in, because there have been quite a few changes, but I just wanted to learn as quickly as I could. Luckily, I was able to fit back in and it was good to be part of a winning side on Saturday.”
Pietersen first played for the Sharks under Dick Muir in 2006 and went on to play for the Boks later that year in a dream season.
“It’s a special honour for any rugby player to play your 100th game,” Pietersen said. “The Sharks gave me the opportunity to play my first game, so I’ve wanted to be loyal to them, and they’ve been loyal to me. I’ve had wonderful memories here that I will cherish forever, and it’s really special to have played 100 games for one union.”
Pietersen has been away from Kings Park long enough to note some changes on his return.
“There have been a couple of differences with Jake here, I can see a lot of energy in the squad and the forwards are playing really well,” he said.
“Like Jake said when he took over the job – he’s here to help us win the competition. We all believe in that. We don’t just want to compete, we want to win. It is a big ask, we’ve come close in the past, and although it’s a similar mind-set to the past, I think the belief is a 100percent better,” Pietersen stated.
He added that he has seen positive changes in some of his old mates.
“Frans Steyn is playing some of his best rugby and is looking in good shape,” Pietersen said. “It’s the old Frans again, you can see he’s happy. Pat Lambie has also been playing good rugby, he’s the key man for us in terms of putting us into good positions on the field. He’s kicking well, but the energy and performances have been good across the board.” - The Star