Boks: A Pietersen or a Petersen?

Sergeal Petersen (Gallo Images)
Sergeal Petersen (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Fighting a rising tide of reservation about fielding a scrumhalf at wing in the form of Francois Hougaard, the Springboks may well be in the market for alternatives in the No 14 jersey for the three Tests on their northern hemisphere tour.

If they do decide to settle on the versatile Hougaard returning to contention for his more specialist berth closer to the cauldron, then seasoned JP Pietersen and his exciting, but uncapped near-namesake Sergeal Petersen probably lead the pack to assume the chore against England at Twickenham on November 12.

Before that first full international, the Boks have a warm-up fixture against the Barbarians at Wembley on November 5, although their team is likely to have a strongly “invitational” feel given the required absence of any overseas-based players for it.

That first tour assignment, then, could well be when home-resident Petersen, the in-form Cheetahs flier who plays in Saturday’s Currie Cup final against the Blue Bulls in Bloemfontein, has his chance to confirm any Test credentials.

A possible, attractive obstacle to the duo, of course, could come in the form of Ruan Combrinck, one of relatively few newcomers to the Bok fold this year to have made encouraging strides quickly at the highest level.

There has been little information of late on his recovery progress from a fractured fibula suffered against Argentina in Salta in late August, although the gritty Lions player was scheduled to be sidelined for up to six weeks, so a return to full contact is presumably not far away at all.

Counting against Combrinck is that he will be rusty after a lengthy layoff, so his presence on tour is less than assured.

But it is possible nevertheless that both Petersen and Pietersen will be in the tour party for the Test portion, also featuring challenges against Italy and Wales.

While hardly lacking in courage or tenacity, the elusive, always try-hungry former is not the biggest unit you will ever see in a wide position at 1.71m and around 82kg, and Bok backlines of late have been unusually short of tall, muscular timber for contesting purposes either on or above the deck.

It is in that area – among others -- that Pietersen, a World Cup winner in 2007 but still only just over 30, comes into his own as a “balancing” option for the Bok backline.

Helping his cause (if Bok coach Allister Coetzee is indeed interested) is that his current club, Leicester Tigers, revealed on Tuesday that the big-striding, 1.90m, 105kg Pietersen is fit again for selection for Sunday’s important home European Champions Cup clash with Racing 92, last year’s losing finalists.

The former Sharks favourite, following a bright start to his English Premiership career, injured a thigh against Bath on September 25 and has been absent since.

But director of rugby Richard Cockerill said he hoped Pietersen’s “experience will make a big difference” in the Welford Road fixture.

The tackle-breaking wing, holder of 69 Bok caps, last played in green and gold against Ireland at Port Elizabeth in late June, and was then given a “rest period” by Coetzee.

Pietersen has not always fired consistently for South Africa in recent seasons, but that may well be partly because he tended to be overplayed during the pretty long period when he was a dual representative of a Japanese club and then the Sharks in Super Rugby soon afterwards.

A fresh, fit Pietersen still seems a good game-breaking possibility for the Boks in looming European winter conditions which he is well familiar with by now.

He did stress in a recent interview with Sport24 that “the desire is still there (to play for the Boks)” and that “maybe the end-of-year tour will mark my return if I earn a call-up”.

Once he’s over the not insignificant Bok indaba distraction, the ball will be in Coetzee’s court as far as JP Pietersen selection is concerned …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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