As JP Pietersen takes up a junior coaching role at the Sharks, he says the opportunity to potentially shape the career of future stars is one that excites him, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Pietersen recently announced his retirement, calling time on an illustrious career during which he played a total of nearly 200 games for the Sharks, while banking 70 caps for the Springboks.
Despite all his achievements, Pietersen quietly bowed out of the game without much fanfare, which is rather in keeping with a person who is inherently laid back and down-to-earth.
Pietersen doesn’t conduct many interviews, but for the upcoming issue of SA Rugby magazine, he reflects on a career that spanned some 15 years and included winning a World Cup at the age of 21.
Although the 34-year-old has now hung up his boots, he will remain closely involved in the game as he takes up a place in the Sharks’ junior coaching structures.
‘I’ve been crazy about rugby from a young age,’ Pietersen says. ‘I never doubted that I’d be involved in rugby in some way. So my love for the game was always there. To begin this adventure as an U20 assistant coach, I’ll have to take it as it comes.
‘For me it’s about learning and developing as a coach, and the advantage I have is that I played for a long time and I can share the experience I have with the youngsters and prepare them about what to expect when they move up to senior level.
‘My biggest goal as a coach is for the younger players I work with to be ready for whatever gets thrown at them when they make the step up from the junior ranks to senior set-up.’
From his own experience, Pietersen also shares the comical anecdote of making his own Sharks debut, when he walked down to the stadium from his Morningside residence on the eve of a game against Boland.
Then just 19 years old, Pietersen laughs when he recalls walking in his Sharks kit alongside fans making their way to the stadium: ‘People were probably just looking at me thinking I’m a normal ball-boy walking to the stadium to work,’ he recalls.
Yet, that would be just the start of a long and illustrious career, with Pietersen pinpointing coaches such as Dick Muir, John Plumtree, Jake White and Peter de Villiers as key role players.
He says the opportunity to now impart what he learned along the way is something that he’s looking forward to.
‘You never know what challenges and curveballs rugby will give them or even which teams they will end up playing for. I want them to enjoy their junior rugby but also to be ready for whenever a senior coach calls on them, and to embrace the challenges that come with that transition. Going forward that’s my goal for the future.
‘Who knows, maybe I can be someone who had a hand in the career of future Springbok. And that would be the ultimate achievement for me as a coach.’
*Read the full interview in the upcoming issue of SA Rugby magazine
Photo: Steve Haag Sports