JP needs to own greatness
THE lousy thing about being identified as a talented individual is that you spend a significant amount of your life trying to live up to other people's expectations.
Former Springbok utility back Gaffie du Toit knows about that baggage all too well.
After introducing himself with a stupendous performance for Griquas - when he dropped a goal from the parking lot, redefined the laws of geometry with some of the goal-kicks he nailed, and put in a jaw-dropping solo try for good effect - somebody christened him "Giftige Gaffie du Toit", and the die was cast.
In a candid interview much later, the flyhalf explained why he could be a genius and a dunce within the space of five minutes in a match.
He said after his perfect storm for Griquas, he had pushed himself too hard to achieve the same in every match, because that was what people expected from him.
What he forgot was that every match is a bit like a day in one's life.
They both have personalities of their own, so being named man of the match for scoring a full house one day can easily give way to being feted for making one key pass the next.
It's an important lesson Du Toit struggled with throughout his career, and I wonder if Sharks winger Jon-Paul Roger (JP) Pietersen has it down pat or if we expect too much of him.
Named after Wales' legendary JPR Williams and being the nephew of former Sharks player Christie Noble, the wing, and sometimes fullback and centre, was up against it from day one.
But he came bearing wonderful rugby gifts like size, power, pace, explosiveness, skill, a taste for the big occasion, and a rugby brain to make sure that all his natural attributes fly in formation.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a rugby player who wouldn't die happy with Pietersen's successes.
He topped the try-scoring in the 2007 Super 14 with 12 tries; won the World Cup with the Springboks; and has two Currie Cup winner's medals.
And all this he has done by the ripe old age of 26.
Yet for all of that, one can't shake the feeling Pietersen has underachieved.
The year after he was the top try-scorer in the Super 14 was followed by a season in which he failed to score a single try in the competition.
And the abiding image of his 2007 campaign is not a swallow dive over the tryline, but of him vainly trying to knock the ball out of Bryan Habana's hands as he scored the winning try in the Super 14 final.
Ability-wise, Pietersen is right up there with the Habanas, Joe Rokocokos and the Sitiveni Sivivatus of this world.
But his stats don't tally up, as 14 tries from 45 Bok caps will testify. By contrast, Habana could retire today and he will have won everything there is to win.
I compare him with Habana because they are contemporaries and Pietersen is every bit as talented, if not more so.
But Habana's default setting when that most promiscuous of mistresses, form, deserts him, is to find other ways to contribute. Pietersen goes from racehorse to carthorse.
Pietersen only ever visits greatness, like some holiday destination. His contemporaries seek to live there.
Ironically, the reason for raising the question is his starting to dominate games like we suspected he could this year, as evidenced by his performances in the last two months.
One wonders if he's just visiting again, or at long last he's finally decided to be at one with his massive ability.
Here's hoping he finds that fine balance between hitting his targets and meeting our extravagant expectations.