Pietersen as laid back as ever ahead of Cheetahs clash

2015-03-11 00:00

HE has only been back in Durban for a couple of weeks, but JP Pietersen looks his usual laid-back self — even after the Sharks went down to the Stormers last weekend.

The loss made it one win and three losses in the first four rounds of Super Rugby and has subsequently piled the pressure on to the Sharks.

There is no sugar-coating the fact that the Sharks need to beat the Cheetahs this weekend if they want to have a chance at competing for the Super Rugby title.

Returning alongside Frans Steyn from Japan last week, Pietersen made his way directly into the starting line-up and faced an acid test in the form of fellow Springboks Damian de Allende and Juan de Jongh. The pair have been in excellent form and they welcomed Steyn and Pietersen back to the elite tournament by keeping them busy all night.

Even though De Allende was the star performer on Saturday, Pietersen and Steyn played well and certainly didn’t look off the pace. But Pietersen admitted it was a challenge coming back into the tournament after three rounds had already been played. “It’s definitely a step up in intensity and physicality from Japan straight into Super Rugby. Frans and I were also a new combination but I don’t want to make excuses, we didn’t execute on Saturday and that’s why the result didn’t go our way,” a pensive Pietersen said after yesterday’s late afternoon practice.

While the match was a tightly fought affair, the Stormers attacked the Sharks’ set-pieces, which hampered the visitors’ ability to gain momentum.

The Stormers then outplayed the visitors tactically in the second half, which put the game out of reach.

“We made it difficult for ourselves, but they are a good team and played a good brand of rugby. We spoke about it on Monday and Tuesday and the most important thing that stood out was our execution. We found ourselves in good areas of the field but we didn’t execute and it was really frustrating,” Pietersen said.

“The ball also happened to bounce their way when they kicked it and it turned all the pressure and momentum their way. There aren’t too many big issues to fix; I think we must just be hard on ourselves when we have an opportunity to finish.”

And that is exactly the message Pietersen and his team-mates have been given by director of rugby Gary Gold. Many fans are scratching their heads wondering what exactly is stopping the Sharks from closing out tight matches with so many big names back on the field. “The main emphasis Gary is focusing on is that our execution wasn’t up to scratch. There’s thing like our set-piece that just wasn’t good enough on the weekend but these are all things we can fix. We have a lot of Springboks, a lot of experienced players that can step up and show the way forward. It’s more a mental switch than things you can actually fix.”

And if anything, the temperature in the Sharks kitchen heated up this week. All the sessions have been high intensity and Gold has been tough on his charges during training — perhaps the right medicine to make his players hungry for wins.

The Sharks needed to be desperate like the Bulls were a week ago, but they lacked that fire and now find themselves in tenth place of the overall log.

But ever an optimist, a smiling Pietersen said the pressure is what makes ordinary men great. “The Sharks brand has had huge success and there is always pressure on us even if we just lose one game. We are under a lot of pressure this weekend, but that is what makes great players and we’ve been in this situation before so I think the guys will stand up on Saturday.”

He will have a tough task himself in a defensively taxing outside channel. But ­Pietersen said he is feeling comfortable at 13, having played so many years on the wing for the Sharks and Springboks.

“I played outside centre for six months with Panasonic in Japan so I’m feeling quite comfortable there. But it was my first start there in Super Rugby and I knew it was going to be difficult going up against Juan and Damian. I’m up for the challenge”

The Sharks travel to Bloemfontein to take on the Cheetahs. Kickoff is at 5.10 pm on Saturday.

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