Pietersen heading back to his roots

Cape Town - Utility back Joe Pietersen is looking forward to his next challenge at the Sharks.

It was last week announced that Pietersen would join the Sharks after the conclusion of this year’s Super Rugby competition. He joined the Cheetahs for Super Rugby this year, but will head down to the coast ahead of the start of this year’s Currie Cup.

Pietersen spoke exclusively to Sport24 on Saturday shortly before his side’s clash at against the Stormers at Newlands.

Unlike his short stint at the Cheetahs - who he joined from Biarritz in France at the start of the year - Pietersen’s move to the Sharks is a long-term commitment.

He confirmed that he had signed a two-and-a-half year deal with the Durban-franchise.

“I’m joining the Sharks from July, until the end of 2017,” said Pietersen.

He said he was looking forward to moving back to the region where he grew up.

“I’m very excited. I grew up in Natal, on the south coast, so it’s going to be the first time I really join my birth union. A lot of people tend to make the mistake thinking that I’m from the Free State, but I only went to boarding school (Grey College, Bloemfontein) in standard eight, nine and matric. My whole school career, I was actually down in Port Shepstone.”

Pietersen has had a distinguished career, having previously represented Western Province and the Stormers, as well as French clubs Bayonne and Biarritz.

But he has never played for the Springboks, an ambition the 31-year-old has not completely given up on.

“Any guy who plays in South Africa has that aspiration. (But) it’s not my end goal at all… like with the Stormers and obviously the Cheetahs now this last six months, my main thing is to try and contribute to whichever team I play in and do my best there. Anything after that, whether it be Springbok or the next opportunity or whatever…”

When probed on why he opted to return to South Africa, Pietersen mentioned Biarritz’s relegation from the French Top 14 as a contributing factor.

“When my club got relegated in France, I had the option of prolonging my career there. But I felt that I’d rather play some more Super Rugby than go down to the second division in France. That was more my thinking, playing Super Rugby again.”

Pietersen said the opportunity of playing flyhalf at the Cheetahs also excited him.

“It was a great opportunity for me (at the Cheetahs) to expand my horizons a bit and play not just at 15 (fullback), but at 10 (flyhalf) as well.

“Playing flyhalf is nice. It adds another gun to the armoury if you can call it that,” continued Pietersen, who quipped that he can play just about any position except centre.

Pietersen said he gained valuable experience during his time in France, having played for Bayonne in 2010/11 and Biarritz in 2013/14.

“I loved it there. I played at Bayonne for just over a year, which was also phenomenal. And then going back, I knew the area, because Biarritz and Bayonne is basically one town.”

The area is well known for its surfing hotspots, and with Pietersen being an avid surfer himself, he admitted it made the decision easier.

“It’s phenomenal over there and the life experience outside of rugby is something I wish every guy to experience, but I’m a very bad winter guy and that didn’t really help me a lot...”

At 31 years of age, Pietersen has not harboured any hopes of retirement yet and intends to extend his career for as long as possible.

“I’ve been very lucky with injuries, I haven’t had any operations yet, 11 years into my career, so if I can keep playing at my best I’ll play for as long as possible. I don’t have an end goal. I try and take it each job at a time. I’ll focus on the next two years at the Sharks at then take it from there.”

Joe Pietersen is sponsored by Puma. Follow @PUMASouthAfrica on Twitter

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