Olivier’s time is up

RYAN VREDE writes that Wynand Olivier has not delivered in a Test jersey ­and today was no exception.

This Test was a defining one for Olivier. Thirty caps into his international career, Olivier would have been acutely aware of the pressure he was under to produce a performance that proved his aptitude for Test rugby. He, however, offered nothing to support his case for continued selection.

Earlier this year I argued for Olivier’s selection ahead of Jean de Villiers based on the belief that he had matured into a complete player who was capable of carrying his Super Rugby form onto the Test stage. Sadly, it appears I was wrong. His prowess seemingly depends too heavily on the comfort of Loftus and the familiarity of those around him in blue shirts.

The inside centre was certainly not the only mediocre performer, those were plentiful, and many of them were in forwards. Their failure to assert themselves on attack, combined with another superb defensive display by the All Blacks and a kick-chase approach that undermined Olivier’s cause, were mitigating factors that have to be taken into account when assessing his performance.

Judging Olivier on his showing in Wellington alone would be unfair. But his contributions there there were fairly reflective of his entire Test career, and therefore warrants attention.

Defensively he was flawless, missing none of his 12 tackles. It’s on attack that his shortcomings are patent. He made seven passes (three in the last two minutes), and only one of which put a player (Zane Kirchner) into space. This is one of Olivier’s strengths for the Bulls, and he remains the only inside centre in South Africa who is equally effective when distributing to his left as he is to his right. Yet that quality hasn’t been evident when he has been in a green and gold jersey.

The coaching staff either don’t realise his value as a play maker, which would be disturbing given that he has exhibited that skill consistently for the Bulls in the last two years, or believe he is better suited to being utilised as a strike weapon after the opposition’s defensive line has been depleted. The latter is, of course, self defeating because the Springboks were seldom able to play through enough phases to achieve that objective.

They by-passed him out thrice with a pass, and on numerous occasions Olivier was conspicuous in his absence because he was committed to cleaning a ruck (he cleaned 13 times this week and last). Logic suggests you want your inside centre handling the ball as often as possible, particularly one with Olivier’s distribution ability.

He carried the ball five times and crossed the advantage line thrice, and while that is a decent return considering the dearth of possession, it’s line breaks that separates the good 12s from the great ones.

Previously his supporters argued that he was never given an extended run in the position. That cannot be offered as an excuse any longer.

His inability to make the step up is particularly disappointing given his Super 14 form in the last two years which has been outstanding. But he has seemingly joined the list of players who haven’t been able to replicate their Super Rugby form at Test level, and the Springboks’ selectors must now seriously reassess his ongoing value to the side.

This is particularly pertinent just 18 months away from the World Cup and the selectors have to be decisive in their next step. Jean de Villiers limped off injured at half time. However, if he recovers for the Test against Australia in Brisbane he must be reinstated to his preferred position.

In recent years De Villiers has had to contend with inferior players occupying the position, but has always rebounded to underline his class. Never was that more evident than in the 2009 Tri-Nations, where his partnership with Jaque Fourie was central to the Springboks’ success.

De Villiers has proven himself a potent attacking force against the southern hemisphere’s finest, but his value extends to his defensive co-ordination. His time is now.

Olivier has had ample opportunity to prove his capacity for the step up and the selectors know what he offers. If coach Peter de Villiers is intent on building a squad capable of defending the World Cup, doesn’t it make sense to create more opportunities for the talented Juan de Jongh?

As previously stated, if Jean de Villiers is fit he must start next week, but De Jongh will benefit from short stints against the best players in world rugby. That way his aptitude will be tested and the selectors will have a clearer picture of where they stand ahead of the tournament in New Zealand.

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