JP Pietersen believes the current group of Springboks can progress to successfully contest for top honours at the 2019 World Cup, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Bok coach Allister Coetzee made a statement of intent in May when he selected a number of newcomers in his first squad for the June series against Ireland, while including just three overseas-based players.
During the course of the series, six players have made their Bok debuts: Faf de Klerk, Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Franco Mostert, Jaco Kriel and Ruan Combrinck. In addition, the likes of Warren Whiteley, Lionel Mapoe and Siya Kolisi all made their first Test starts.
Coetzee has attempted to avoid suggesting the Boks are a team in transition, but he has readily acknowledged that they are at the start of a new journey that may take some time to reap plentiful rewards.
The Bok coach has also moved to dispel any notion that the Boks are at a point where they are immediately capable of perfectly executing a new game plan that the players are clearly still adjusting to.
As a key member of a relatively new-look squad, and particularly inexperienced backline, Pietersen is one of the seniors who has been there and done it all before.
The big winger was there when the Boks won the World Cup in 2007 under Jake White, and has been a central figure in the subsequent Springbok teams during the tenures of Peter de Villiers and Heyneke Meyer. He has again been retained by Coetzee as one of the first-choice wingers at the start of this new Bok era.
After producing a Man of the Match performance in Saturday’s series-deciding win over Ireland in Port Elizabeth, Pietersen said he believed there were plenty of reasons to be positive about the direction the Boks were heading.
‘In 2007 when we won the World Cup, there were lots of guys with plenty of experience, but as is always the case at the start of a new cycle, we have a new group of guys. I think we’ve laid a good foundation [during the series against Ireland] and you can see how a number of players have really made their mark and adjusted to the step up from Super Rugby to Test rugby.
‘There are a lot of really talented players in this squad, and I’m confident that we can become a really good side, and in four years’ time achieve that goal [of winning the World Cup again].’
Pietersen said he was proud of the manner in which the players had responded after the shock opening loss to Ireland in Cape Town.
‘Whenever you play for the Boks, you have this burning desire to be at your absolute best. It was really disappointing to suffer that loss at Newlands, and we needed to take a close look at ourselves and where things went wrong. The senior players had to put their hands up, and for us as a team to show some character and fight. Before this game [in Port Elizabeth], Adriaan [Strauss] asked us to be at our best, and I think we delivered.’
The Boks will next gather in camp after Super Rugby, with their opening Rugby Championship match set to take place against Argentina in Nelspruit on 20 August.
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