Port Elizabeth - You could say that he has had more comebacks than George Foreman, but Wynand Olivier doesn’t give the impression he is too bothered by the intense pressure he must be under as he prepares to make his first start for the Springboks since last year’s away leg of the Tri-Nations.
According to SuperSport.com, the Bulls inside centre is set to wear the No 12 against England at Nelson Mandela Stadium on Saturday as a replacement for Frans Steyn, who has been given the weekend off to get married. Although he played the entire second half in Johannesburg last week and had a cameo role in the first Test in Durban, this will be Olivier’s big opportunity, and some might say last chance, to shatter the perception that he is not up to international standard.
“The team has not been announced yet, but if I do get to start I will see it as a big opportunity that I will definitely try to use to prove that I can play international rugby. It’s not so much about proving anything to anyone else, but to myself. I want to prove to myself that I can play international rugby,” said Olivier.
Those words might suggest that Olivier has some inner demons that need dealing with, and if that is the case, it would be understandable. Although he made his international debut as long ago as 2006, and has played 36 times for his country, he has never backed up at the highest level the potential he has shown at provincial and Super Rugby level when wearing the Bok jersey.
He also had his way blocked for a long time by the record breaking longstanding midfield partnership of Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie, while Peter de Villiers’s initial preference for Adi Jacobs also stood in his way in 2008. Frans Steyn played ahead of him when De Villiers was injured during the 2007 World Cup, and he was jettisoned from the national squad ahead of the last World Cup.
He has though been offered a lifeline by new coach Heyneke Meyer, who clearly rates him higher than some of his predecessors did.
“I’ve been in and out of the team for a long time now, and I would obviously like to become more of a permanent fixture in the national team than I have been. It does feel different to when I was involved with the Boks under Jake White and Peter de Villiers. I do know Heyneke a lot better than I knew the other coaches.
“I was also young when I played under Jake. I am a lot more experienced and wiser now than I was and hopefully I can use this opportunity to make the step up. I enjoy playing alongside Jean de Villiers. We haven’t played together since 2006, but he is a good communicator and I feel he brings something different out of me when I play next to him. We have a good understanding and I draw off his experience.”
Olivier said he had been happy with his performances as a reserve in Durban and Johannesburg, but there had not been much opportunity to attack, something that was reflected by the fact that he made the most tackles of all the Bok backs at Coca-Cola Park even though he was on the field for only half the game.
“I had to do more tackling than anything else. Manu Tuilagi is a big guy and I am looking forward to trying to stop him, but I will also hopefully get an opportunity to show what I can do with the ball.”
With many critics, particularly those in the Cape, questioning why Meyer opted for Olivier ahead of the talented Stormers centre Juan de Jongh, who has performed well when presented with opportunities at international level in the past, he must know that this could well be his last chance. But he also knows that being too stressed about it won't help.