This being South African rugby, it’s a conversation that’s likely to be as short as the 1.71m, 82kg Western Province winger, what with our obsession with big’uns regardless of whether they have two brain cells to rub together to play the game played in heaven properly.
But given how Sergeal Petersen has simply dominated this year’s Currie Cup by scoring seven tries from Western Province’s five matches leading up to yesterday’s north versus south derby against the Blue Bulls at Loftus Versfeld, it’s a discussion that needs to be had.
To merely quote the 24-year-old’s numbers in making any kind of case for him falls short of doing the otherworldly rugby he has played justice.
With each passing week of the competition, there has been something new to add to the highlights reel, but for me three instances have encapsulated the fact that the former junior South African sprinter’s fleetness of foot is matched only by the swiftness of his mind.
The no-look offload to a looping Dillyn Leyds against the Golden Lions highlighted that he’s as handy with assists as he is with finishing; his try against the Griquas – where he dropped the ball on to his right foot for a grubber, ran out of bounds and just made it into the in-goal area to dot – was a case in point for his quick-wittedness; and his goosing and gassing of former Grey High team-mate Curwin Bosch to score at Newlands was a reminder of his blinding speed because the Sharks man is no carthorse.
So, what’s the best way to channel Petersen’s outrageous gifts?
A garden variety South African rugby fan would, without even thinking, banish him to the Blitzboks, where all the smart and skilful players in this country go to die a sevens legend’s death.
The rationale would be that “he’s quick, he’s got good feet, but he’s a wee fella”.
In our size-ist thinking, this would make sense and, frankly, Petersen – who had scored 46 tries in 74 first-class games before yesterday’s match against the Bulls – would be pushing the quicker but less skilful Seabelo Senatla’s ridiculous numbers in three to four years’ time.
But whether that’s likely to happen should be gleaned from the fact that, since bursting on to the scene as an 18-year-old straight out of school, Petersen has only been called up by the Blitzboks once – in 2013 – which would suggest a reluctance on his part because he certainly fits the bill.
Also, while the sevens players have evolved from cute little players who can make magic into national heroes, their pay still doesn’t quite match that of good Super Rugby players.
And, as we all know, once the money toothpaste is out of the tube, nobody’s forcing it back in.
Given that he scored the Southern Kings’ first Super Rugby try on debut as a teenager and played in the same SA Under-20 side as the Handré Pollards and Jesse Kriels of this world, one gets the feeling that Petersen is holding out for greater things because his start suggested he was destined for big things.
But one answer to why his higher ambitions in the 15-man game could be stillborn is Taqele Naiyaravoro, who toyed with the smaller Petersen.
That day, during a Springbok XV game against the Barbarians in 2016, the fact that Petersen gave away 41kg and 24cm in height to the Wallaby showed as Naiyaravoro all but smeared the South African all over the turf.
That said, Courtnall Skosan – who is, admittedly, bigger than Petersen – came back from an embarrassing outing against former Blues winger Frank Halai.
But the thing that speaks in Petersen’s favour the most is Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus successfully roping in the equally slight Cheslin Kolbe, who showed in the Rugby Championship that, to quote Frikkie Welsh talking to Gavin Passens years ago, as jy a bietjie ballas wys, you can hold your own in test rugby even if you’re a wee fella.
But the catch is that, not only do the Boks already have their wee fella, the queue on the wing is a long one behind Aphiwe Dyantyi, Sbu Nkosi, Makazole Mapimpi and Kolbe.
So we’re back to where we started – what to do with the gifted Sergeal Petersen.
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