Wynand Olivier concedes he deserved to lose his place in the Springbok side in 2008 but is overjoyed to have returned.
Olivier, who excelled in the Super 14 for the Bulls, hasn’t started a Test since the 2007 World Cup pool match against Tonga, and hasn’t played for the Springboks since the end of year Test against Wales in the same year.
His axing was preceded by an ordinary 2008 Super 14 campaign, and was subsequently overlooked for the Test season. It’s been one and a half long years in the Test wilderness, but Olivier has kicked down the selectors’ door and deservedly resumes his spot in a Springbok 22.
‘That hurt, it was a big letdown, but I understood why I was left out,’ Olivier told keo.co.za.
‘I was in a comfort zone after the World Cup. I didn’t train nearly as hard as I had the previous season. I wasn’t competitive with the Bulls at all. But now I have a totally different mindset. I’m enjoying my rugby more than ever before and I think that reflects in my form.
‘I think I’m playing the best rugby of my career, and it’s awesome to have achieved a goal of mine by getting back into the Springbok side after a year and a half.’
Olivier’s combination with the halfback pair of Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn was central to the Bulls’ success in the Super 14. The triumvirate now have an opportunity to replicate that form on the Test stage, and Olivier is excited by that prospect.
‘Morne was outstanding in the Super 14 and it’s a massive thing for him to be starting now,’ he said. ‘He’s not the type of guy to disappear on the big occasion so I expect him to do well and hopefully we can combine like we did with the Bulls.
‘But Fourie [Du Preez] is the key to our success. If he gets good ball from the pack he is so unpredictable, and we just play off whatever he does.
‘Then there’s Jaque Fourie, who is a special player, on my outside. Hopefully I can put him into a few spaces.’
Olivier and Fourie will front a changed Lions midfield of Riki Flutey and Tommy Bowe. Their inclusion was necessitated because of injuries to Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll.
‘I would have loved to face them, particularly O’Driscoll who is probably the best outside centre in the world,’ he said. ‘His combination with Roberts has worked well for them, but that said, they have some quality players in their squad, and it will still be a big challenge.’
Olivier conceded that his performance in this match would have a bearing on his selection or non-selection for the Tri-Nations squad.
‘It’s definitely at the back of your mind,’ he said. ‘I want to be involved in the Tri-Nations and obviously I have to make a statement on Saturday if I hope to do that.’
By Ryan Vrede, in Johannesburg