Wynand Olivier is the best bet for the number 12 jersey according to JJ Harmse in his News24 column.
The announcement of the British and Irish Lions touring squad on Tuesday brings home the realization that the tour is almost upon us. Another harsh reality is trying to get a hotel room in Durban for the weekend of the first Test match – there is a better chance of having the Bulls go all season without a yellow card, it seems!
Sure to have a room in Durban, though, will be coach Peter de Villiers, who expressed surprise at the selection of Paul O’Connell as Lions captain.
In about four weeks, De Villiers will of course name his own squad and while there are will be no surprise who his captain will be, some other selections might ruffle a few feathers.
I can’t see the Bok coach straying too far from the well traveled path, but it will still be interesting to see how many new players he brings into the squad.
Someone like Wynand Olivier has not been picked by De Villiers yet, although the coach indicated during last year’s end of the year tour that the Bulls centre was unlucky not to be in the mix after a stellar Currie Cup season.
There is no doubt that on form, the Bulls midfielder has no peer at the moment and should be brought back into the Springbok fold.
He last played for the Boks in 2007, but even then never established himself. Jean de Villiers and Frans Steyn took the no 12 jersey and made it their own. Olivier at the time was used by Jake White as an outside centre, but also had some starts on the wing. He played second fiddle to Jaque Fourie then.
As an inside centre, he has now combined all the skills needed to play in that position. His defence is solid, his ability to break the line second to none. His distribution skills have improved a lot and he is probably the best passer of the rugby ball amongst the midfielders currently playing.
Gcobani Bobo, Jean de Villiers and Adrian Jacobs all have more subtle touches than Olivier, but Olivier’s passing to both sides is now accurate and his timing is spot-on.
So how will De Villiers handle the situation?
Will he stay with the successful De Villiers/Jacobs combination, or will we see the more physical combination of Olivier and Fourie selected to combat the Lions midfield?
The Lions selection has made it pretty clear that they aim to get in the faces of the Boks, with the selection of Tom Shanklin and Jamie Roberts suggesting that the direct route will be the most popular one for the tourists.
Where will this leave Frans Steyn? And what about Bobo, who was used very sparingly by De Villiers last year?
I can’t see Waylon Murray coming into contention as he has just started playing again. Meyer Bosman has also faded away as an option.
De Villiers could go back the successful World Cup pairing of Steyn and Fourie, though. Or reunite De Villiers and Fourie, who proved so successful when they came together for the first time …
One combination we have not seen together is Olivier and Jacobs. I suppose Olivier and Steyn could also be an option, but I don’t see De Villiers going that route.
Olivier could also combine with De Villiers, with the latter playing at 13.
It will be interesting to see also if the coach will stick with Jacobs in the starting 13 jersey as Fourie has shown some real class this year.
It is hard to imagine a Bok backline without someone like Steyn even being on the bench, but it is quite possible.
On the basis of what I have seen so far in Super Rugby, Olivier is the best centre in the country. He should have Fourie on his outside, but we will still have to see how the two combine.
I think they will do well together. Both Olivier’s midfield partners at the Bulls, JP Nel and Jaco Pretorius, run good angles and lines and Olivier has no problems combining with them. Fourie’s angled running is outstanding and Olivier will be able to provide him with good ball.
De Villiers is lucky to be in such a position. The injury to Jean de Villiers may force his hand in the opening weeks of the Lions tour, but the fact that anyone of the mentioned players might actually miss out on playing for the Springboks at all this year shows the depth and talent we have available in the midfield. With so many proven combinations amongst them as well, it will take a wise man to make the right call.
Let’s hope Dick Muir and De Villiers look at all their options and are prepared to make tough calls. By starting the process and picking Olivier at 12, they can’t go wrong.