Sharks coach John Plumtree believes that new midfield convert JP Pietersen is the best outside centre in the South Africa at the moment and has backed him to challenge for the position in the Springbok side.
The Sharks boss is convinced that his experiment with Pietersen in the midfield has already proven to be a success, and he is tipping the versatile speedster to develop further in the position as the season progresses.
"He's big and quick, defensively he's very accurate. To be honest, I think he's probably the best 13 in the country at the moment, and that's a positive; but remember, that's my opinion," said Plumtree.
Pietersen started his career at fullback for the Sharks and has played the bulk of his rugby for the Durban franchise and the Springboks on the wing, and Plumtree said that the ease with which he has taken to this new position is further testament to his natural ability.
He commented: "He's adapted quicker to the position than I thought he would. He's added another string to his bow. I think it's great for him to be considered at wing or at centre for the Boks. He's been excellent there, he's a real threat and the opposition will have to watch him."
The Sharks boss has been particularly impressed with the thoughtful way that Pietersen has approached his new role and believes that his positive attitude to the shift has been instrumental to his success there so far.
He said" "His kicking has improved as well, the stats show he has kicked the most of all 13s in South Africa – we weren't expecting that. But we saw on the weekend, a little kick over the top for his wingers to chase, so he's giving a lot of thought to the position and has adapted well.
"There is risk involved in moving a world-class winger to 13, but he's embraced it and I'm really pleased for him, hopefully he will continue to get better and better," added Plumtree.
Pietersen has shown an encouraging willingness to offload in the tackle and put his outside backs in space, which is perhaps the result of years of watching outside centres take the ball to ground when there was a more promising opportunity on the outside.
The Sharks stalwart said that although the shift has been a major challenge, it is one that he has enjoyed immensely.
Pietersen said: "Plum asked me if I would consider the move to centre, I said it would be a great challenge for me to get more involved in the game and in organising defence. I was quite keen to take up the challenge."
Pietersen added that while he has been energised by the new responsibilities on his shoulders he is well-aware that he has a long way to go before he is the finished article.
"It looks easy, but it isn't and I'm still learning a lot, especially on defence, in getting into the best position you can defend. It’s also a lot about the work rate, but I do get a lot of help from my teammates, Marius Joubert and Meyer Bosman have been a great help.
"It's a process of learning every week. You can talk about it, but the best place to learn is on the field. It's also about getting defensively good and getting into the right positions to attack the ball and defend well too," said Pietersen.
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