I'm fully fit and feeling very strong and that brings confidence
JP Pietersen says he has never felt stronger, and he knows that will need every ounce of that strength against a physical Chiefs outfit this weekend.
The Springbok flyer has been in sensational form as the Sharks have defied the odds to march into the Super Rugby Final, and he puts his supreme confidence on the pitch down to his improved physical condition.
"For the first time in my career I'm fully fit and feeling very strong and that brings confidence. When you play well, your confidence rises and motivates you further, I'm just happy that I'm performing well for the team," he said.
The elusive wing has looked a threat every time he has got the ball in recent weeks, scoring in Brisbane and Cape Town as the Sharks defeated the Reds and the Stormers away from home on consecutive weekends, so he will be out to make it a try-scoring hat-trick of sorts when he lines up at the Waikato Stadium on Saturday.
Pietersen's form has been central to the Sharks' remarkable revival this season, and he showed his value to the team when he shone at Newlands last week despite being asked to attack at outside centre and defend on the wing.
He believes that the turning point in the Sharks' season came after their loss to the Lions just before the June international break which forced them to re-assess their game.
"The break in June gave us time to refresh and talk about our goals and what we wanted to achieve this season. After the Lions game, we agreed that the challenge was in our hands and we've all stepped up each week and faced that challenge head on," he revealed.
The team responded in fine fashion by dramatically securing the final play-off spot before proceeding to eliminate the Australian and South African conference champions on consecutive weekends - a feat which has earned them a shot at the Super Rugby trophy for the first time since 2007.
"What motivates us is the fact that we're in the final, and more so that none of us have ever won the trophy, that motivates everyone, players and coaching staff," said Pietersen.
Apart from their draining travel schedule the Sharks will have to contend with a well-drilled Chiefs side who are playing in their first home final and Pietersen said that it will take an almighty effort to beat a side that does not appear to have many weak points.
"The Chiefs have been the best team in the competition this season - they showed that the whole tournament - and we're in for a big game.
"They have a great attacking game, they have some fantastic attacking backline players as well as in the loose forwards. Then you have Sona Taumalolo who has scored nine tries off pick and go's, so they are dangerous all-round. They also have a good defensive system and will definitely challenge us," he said.
Pietersen believes that the Sharks' best chance is to take control on the scoreboard early on and then hang on - a formula which worked wonders for them against both the Reds and the Stormers.
"We'll have to start well against them and keep them at bay in the first 20 minutes. If we want to win this game, we need to be at our best and everyone needs to bring his A game.
"It's going to be hard, it's going to be physical, and if we don't front up and take them on at their own game, we will have a long day. But it's all about the good start and building from there," he added.