EXCLUSIVE: Former Stormers utility back Joe Pietersen chats to Sport24

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Joe Pietersen in action for the Stormers in 2013. (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images)
Joe Pietersen in action for the Stormers in 2013. (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images)
  • Former Stormers and WP utility back Joe Pietersen talks about the dynamic between Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nieneber at national level and hits back at Clive Woodward’s remarks.
  • The Ex-Blitzbok player, who featured in two tournaments in 2004, addresses whether the Blitzboks chocked at the Olympics and explains why fifth-place shouldn’t be seen as a failure.
  • The current San Diego Legion flyhalf, who has been playing Major League Rugby (MLR) since 2018, reveals his passion for surfing in the USA and trying to save the Rhinos in South Africa.

Sport24 asked: Your take on Rassie Erasmus’ social media offensive?

Joe Pietersen: The hour-long video is gold and I love Rassie! I have also seen most of the Jaco Johan Twitter-gate and, having played under Rassie for a long time, I find it fun. I really enjoy seeing things in the media when Rassie is involved whether good or bad. I like the way he constructs an argument, how he never loses his temper and how he never goes hard the wrong way. He always has something that really backs him up and his comments are always quite entertaining. To those saying Rassie is Jaco Johan, do you really think Saru’s director of rugby and all-round plan-maker has the time to run another account on social media? I wouldn’t think that it’s Rassie, but if it is well done. Away from social media, Rassie has a special expertise outside of coaching which counts in his favour. He is exceptional as a motivator just based on his relationship with players. It’s not a buddy-buddy system and he was always brutally honest with players when it came to team selection. You knew exactly where you stood with him as a coach and because of that the players pulled together.

Sport24 asked: Is the Jacques Nienaber/Erasmus dynamic working?

Joe Pietersen: Jacques and Rassie have been working together professionally for a long time and they know their dynamic better than anyone else. If Rassie is sharp and clever enough, which he is, to come up with an idea to have Jacques as the head coach and himself being the waterboy/messenger I think that’s amazing and I love it. I have seen Clive Woodward’s comments about Rassie’s ‘comical’ behaviour as a water-carrier. I would say maybe jealousy makes you nasty. The traditional way of coaching doesn’t always work and the fact that the pair mix it up and come up with different ideas is inventive. Some are questioning Jacques as head coach but to put his rise to the top into global perspective, Donald Trump became president without any qualifications. Having started as a physiotherapist, it means that he is a clever guy. He also has an appetite for rugby knowledge and has learned from one of the best – in the form of Rassie – and it shows in his track record as a defence coach. The next step was becoming Springbok head coach, having served as an assistant at national level. I don’t see anything not perfectly right with it. Rassie and Jacques have a very close friendship and working relationship. I am pretty sure everything there works according to what they decide and, at the end of the day, what we are looking for is a successful Springbok team.

Sport24 asked: Why are the Springboks employing ‘boring’ tactics?

Joe Pietersen: During the 2019 Rugby World Cup as well there weren’t multiple ball carries from our players outwide and many people gave South Arica flak for the way they played based on their kicking game. What the public have to understand is that we have to play to our strengths as we boast physicality and a good kicking game. South Africa will have to bring the physicality against the British & Irish Lions on Saturday and with a guy like Damian de Allende running hard in the midfield it makes sense that the Lions have selected Chris Harris in place of Elliot Daly for the second Test. The Boks will look to dominate the Lions physically in order to earn the possibility to go wide. I think we have the right players when the opportunities present. The Boks have a really solid plan in place. I don’t judge rugby by the entertainment value. When it comes to Test rugby it’s results-driven. It’s about competing in the right areas owing to the kicking game and Handre Pollard kicking his goals. I think the team with the least amount of ball in terms of attack will probably claim the second Test.

Sport24 asked: Any regrets having never represented the Springboks?

Joe Pietersen:  I don’t have any regrets not playing for the Springboks because it wasn’t my choice to be selected. I was called up to a couple match day 26 teams in 2012 under Heyneke Meyer but never quite cracked the nod. Having played at flyhalf, wing and fullback people say that my versatility may have worked against me much like it did for Brent Russell when he featured mostly off the bench for the Springboks. However, at the age of 37 I’m still playing MLR for San Diego Legion. When I’m not turning out for the team, you can find me on my surfboard. I stay close to one of the most famous breaks in the world – Lower Trestles – and Long Beach and Huntington Beach are an hour from where I’m located. Where I live in San Diego, California we have access to probably 40 different beaches, so surfing and recovery outside of rugby contributes to my ongoing longevity in the game. I grew up on the coast in South Africa, so I enjoy my surfing but I’m mediocre. I’m scared of big waves and wouldn’t call myself a charger in any way… Bianca Buitendag is the real deal. I was very impressed with her Olympic silver medal. She competed against eventual winner Carissa Moore and some other top-notch girls who are on the tour. But once the heat was on, she performed and got the result. As someone who loves surfing and is proudly South African, it was really cool to witness.

Sport24 asked: How highly do you rate the talents of Damian Willemse?

Joe Pietersen: I think Willemse is an exceptional talent. Even at school level, he was crazy good. You probably wouldn’t play him at 12 in South Africa because Damian de Allende has that jersey sewn up. I think Willemse is an exciting youngster and at No.10 he is someone who is going to want to prove his value. I believe in the long run fullback is where his position might be. The question is how much longer will Willie le Roux be in the Springbok mix? As far as being able to play a 10, 12 and 15, Willemse really helps the team in terms of being a member of the Bomb Squad with the 6-2 split, but as a player you want to look at being in the starting line-up. If I was Willemse, No.15 would probably be my choice. However, he will have to unseat Le Roux. Is Willie a Frans Steyn with the boot? No, but he has other characteristics that make him one of the best. I think people always look at it and say: Did Willie score a chip-and-chase try? Did he make a miracle pass or did he create something out of nothing? That is how the public rate him which, for me, is unfair because his ability to work alongside his wingers, organise defence and plug holes when necessary should count for something.

Sport24 asked: Did the Blitzboks choke in their Tokyo 2020 quarter?

Joe Pietersen: Choke is a very lekker reason when you are angry as a fan, want to say something but haven’t been in that positon. If you look at how many tournaments the Blitzboks have won as opposed to how many they have lost, I don’t think they are chokers. It’s very unfortunate to have lost to Argentina and failed to medal. However, the Blitzboks can be a globally-dominant team in Sevens as they were and as we are in the 15-man game. We don’t look for excuses but the team experienced difficulties with Neil Powell quarantined in his hotel room in Tokyo for the bulk of the tournament owing to contracting Covid-19… Fifth-place in our world is not good enough, but that result at the Olympics is still amazing. In South Africa, the bar for sporting success is quite high. It’s good in a way because irrespective of the difficulties we have we still achieve massively as a country.

Sport24 asked: Are we winning the battle against Rhino poaching?

Joe Pietersen: I started a non-profit organisation mostly focusing on Rhino conservation because it’s the predominant issue within South African wildlife conservation. Unfortunately, we are definitely not winning the fight against Rhino poaching. We are plugging holes and treating symptoms. Corruption within government and the private sector coupled with international pressure and socio-economic differences are the main challenges we continue to face. Growing up, I was always on safari somewhere in this beautiful country of ours and our natural heritage is the main drawcard for me to never leave South Africa. I am passionate about fighting for the survival of Rhinos and of the view that if you look after them then other species and game parks within South Africa will benefit.

Previous chats:

Deon Carstens

Paul Wallace

BJ Botha

Bruce Fordyce

Eddie Andrews

Raymond Rhule

Robert Hunt

Dean Hall

Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg

Jasper Wiese

William Small-Smith

Matthew Booth

Boebie Solomons

Chris van Zyl

Wim Visser

Morgan Newman

Dewald Potgieter

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