Chiefs are the strongest side this year, says JP

2012-08-01 00:00

THE Chiefs may have finished second to the Stormers on the log, but Sharks wing JP Pietersen is convinced the New Zealand conference winners are the strongest team in this year’s Super Rugby competition.

Pietersen, speaking from the team hotel in Sydney yesterday, said the Sharks would need to be at their very best if they were to have a chance of beating the Chiefs in Saturday’s Super Rugby final in Hamilton.

“It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be physical, and if we don’t front up and take them on at their own game, we will have a long day. But it’s all about making a good start and building from there,” he said.

While the Stormers did exceptionally well to top the log with a young, injury-hit team, they relied heavily on suffocating defence and the boot of Peter Grant to close out a series of close matches. They scored only 28 tries in 16 games, but conceded just 21 while the Chiefs (47-30) and Sharks (47-31) were more balanced in their approach. But the Stormers only lost two league games while the Chiefs went down four times and the Sharks were beaten in six outings.

Pietersen, who has been in compelling form for the Sharks this season, said the Chiefs had impressed him.

“They have been the best team in the competition this season and we’re in for a big final. They have a great attacking game, they have some fantastic attacking backline players as well as in the loose forwards. Then you have [prop] Sona Taumalolo who has scored nine tries off pick-and-goes, so they are dangerous all round with a good defensive system.

“We’ll have to start well against the Chiefs and keep them at bay in the first 20 minutes. If we want to win this game, we need to be at our best and everyone needs to bring his A game on Saturday.”

Pietersen, man of the match in the Sharks’ upset weekend win over the Stormers in the semi-final, said that physically and mentally he was feeling strong and this had helped him maintain his form.

“I’m happy that my body is in great shape and for the first time in my career I’m fully fit and feeling very strong. That brings confidence and that motivates you further.”

The rangy Pietersen said the players would have the necessary intensity on Saturday in spite of criss-crossing the world to play three knockout games.

“What motivates us is the fact that we’re in the final, and more so because none of us has ever won the trophy. That’s why everyone, players and coaching staff, are all very excited for Saturday.”

The Springbok said that the massive upset loss to the Lions at Ellis Park before the June internationals had been a turning point for the team.

“The break in June gave us time to refresh and talk about our goals and what we wanted to achieve this season. After the Lions game, we agreed that the challenge was in our hands. We’ve all stepped up each week and the team has started to gel and develop with the experienced and inexperienced guys playing their best rugby.”

The Chiefs, meanwhile, are sweating on the fitness of their captain and lock, Craig Clarke, who suffered a medial ligament strain during the semi-final win over the Crusaders last Friday.

“He’ll be on light duties till about Thursday when we’ll make a decision,” Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said yesterday.

Rennie said yesterday Clarke was a key figure in the Chiefs pack and would be given every chance to prove his fitness.

All Black coach Steve Hansen said yesterday the selectors had been impressed with Clarke and would be watching him in the final.

The match kicks off at 9.35 am (SA time) on Saturday.

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