Pietersen keen to play outside centre for Sharks

2012-02-16 00:00

JP PIETERSEN wants to play at outside centre while assistant coach Grant Bashford believes the Springbok wing will add value and unpredictability to the Sharks’ midfield this season.

The Sharks midfield was an area of concern all of last year and coach John Plumtree has surprised everyone this season by selecting Pietersen at centre ahead of former Springbok Marius Joubert for all three pre-season outings — the internal trial, the 62-0 win over Boland and now the trip to Port Elizabeth tomorrow against the Southern Kings.

The 25-year-old Pietersen does not want to jump the gun but he said yesterday that he was enthusiastic about the move.

“We haven’t made any final decisions as to where the coach is going to play me in Super Rugby,” Pietersen told reporters yesterday.

Still, the indications are that he will be in the No. 13 jersey for the Sharks’ Super Rugby opener against the Bulls at Loftus at the end of next week.

The tall, 102 kg Pietersen said he was not new to the position, but had played at centre throughout his school career.

He was chosen at fullback when coach Dick Muir rushed him into the Sharks team as a 19-year-old before gaining selection on the wing by Springbok coach Jake White.

“I’m keen on it and I’m confident I can play there,” said Pietersen, “although I’m not getting ahead of myself.

“I’ve played there before at a different level, so I’m comfortable moving there again.”

He dismissed speculation that he could play in the midfield for the Springboks.

“It is far too early to talk about that and I have no idea whether Plum and Heyneke Meyer [Bok coach] have spoken about it.

“I guess if I do it well for the Sharks first, then what happens at national team level will take care of itself. I’ll take it game by game. It’s a huge challenge for me, but I’m keen to work on it.”

Assistant coach Bashford said he was excited at the potential in the backline.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had this kind of X-factor in the backline, which is very promising,” Bashford explained. “Any time you put 60 points past a team [Boland], you know you’ve done a really good job.”

Bashford said there was stiff competition for places in the Sharks squad.

“When there is no guarantee of getting that jersey, it brings out the best in the players and they are keen to be grabbing their chances.

“We were happy with Freddie Michalak at scrumhalf against Boland.

“He controlled play and communicated well. And for the second week in a row, JP played at 13 and also looked good. We’ve seen a number of backs really performing well over the last couple of weeks.”

A Border-based Kings team were thumped 88-0 by the Lions on Tuesday night, but Bashford is expecting the Eastern Province players to return against the Sharks.

“The Kings are a good team and we are hoping for some good competition,” he said.

Plumtree was yesterday forced to make two changes to his starting line-up to face the Kings with scrumhalf Michalak serving a one-match ban for a late tackle on Elton Jantjies in last year’s Currie Cup final against the Lions and flank Jacques Botes down with a leg infection.

Michalak left for France immediately after the final and his hearing was delayed until the start of this season. Judicial officer Dekker Govender held the hearing on Tuesday night and he suspended Michalak for one week, which means he will be available for the Super Rugby game against the Bulls.

“With the injury to Jacques [Botes], I have the opportunity to play Marcell Coetzee at six where I think he could have potential,” said Plumtree.

He resisted the temptation to promote Sharks captain and flank Keegan Daniel from the bench as a replacement.

“Keegan has played two full games, so I’m happy to give him about half a game [in PE], try out other combinations and give Bismarck du Plessis an opportunity to captain the team.”

Coetzee will now play at six with Lubabalo Mtembu coming in on the other flank. Charl McLeod replaces Michalak at scrumhalf and Cobus Reinach joins the bench.

The match kicks off at 7 pm tomorrow night.

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