JP SA’s best 13, says Plum

2012-03-07 00:00

SHARKS coach John Plumtree reckons that JP Pietersen has rapidly developed into the best outside centre in South African rugby.

Plumtree, adressing the Sharks weekly media gathering at King’s Park yesterday, said he was suprised at how quickly Springbok wing Pietersen had settled in midfield.

“He’s big, quick and, defensively, he’s very accurate.

“To be honest, I think he’s probably the best 13 in the country at the moment and that’s a real positive for us. And, remember, that’s just my opinion.”

The Sharks midfield was a concern all last year and Plumtree took the country by surprise when he looked to Pietersen to solve the problem.

“He’s adapted quicker to the position than I thought he would. He’s added another string to his bow and I think it’s great for him to be considered at wing or at centre for the Boks.

“He’s been excellent there, a real threat, and the opposition will have to watch him. His kicking has improved as well, and the stats show he has kicked the most of all the outside centres in South Africa. We weren’t expecting that so he’s giving a lot of thought to the position and has adapted well.”

Plumtree admitted he had taken a chance in making the switch.

“There is risk involved in moving a world-class wing to 13, but he’s embraced it and I’m really pleased for him. I’m hoping he will continue to get better and better.”

Pietersen yesterday played down the advances he had made in his new role.

“It’s going alright so far, but it’s only the second game of the tournament and I’m taking it game by game. I hope the coach is happy with my performance.”

Pietersen said he had been asked by Plumtree in the close season about making the move to centre.

“I said it would be a great challenge for me to get more involved in the game and in organising defence. I was keen to have a go.

“It looks easy, but it isn’t and I’m still learning a lot, especially on defence where you have to get into the best position to defend. It’s also a lot about the work-rate.”

Pietersen’s rival centres in the Sharks squad had also accepted the change.

“I have had a lot of help from team-mates, Marius Joubert and Meyer Bosman. But it’s a process of learning every week. You can talk about it, but the best place to learn is on the field.”

Pietersen admitted that the Sharks, narrowly beaten at Loftus and Newlands over the past two weekends, would be under fierce pressure to beat the Lions at King’s Park on Saturday evening.

“We’re feeling very positive and excited, but it’s a home game and we have to win.”

Plumtree echoed the views of his new centre.

“We’re 2-0 down in the competition and looking for a win. It’s going to be hugely important for us this weekend.

“The Lions have a win and a loss but they will know that there is a fair bit of pressure on us. They will expect us to be pretty desperate.”

The Sharks coach said that players under an injury cloud, wing Odwa Ndungane, Tim Whitehead and Willem Alberts, had all trained with the squad.

“We’ll leave a final fitness test until Thursday [tomorrow] if we have to.”

The Lions have injury problems in the front-row with both Bok CJ van der Linde and JC Janse van Rensburg picking up long-term injuries in the narow weekend loss to the Hurricanes.

Saturday’s game kicks off at 5.05 pm with Mark Lawrence again the referee.

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