Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, former Springbok centre WYNAND OLIVIER talks about the Bulls’ Super Rugby struggles, backing France for Six Nations success and shooting the breeze with Donald Trump.
Sport24 asked: What do you make of the Bulls’ travails in Super Rugby?
Wynand Olivier: It was always going to be tough for the Bulls when they lost the amount of players they did and they are going through a rebuilding phase. As opposed to when I was at the Bulls, they now have a raft of younger players with less experience. They have lost loads of guys and suddenly others have to step up and fill those roles. The ability to adapt to different situations comes with experience and many of the Bulls players are still green at Super Rugby level. Sometimes it feels like they are running into brick walls and not shifting the ball one or two channels wider. When you fail to break the opposition defence down it makes it difficult for the backs and forwards. It comes with decision-making and experience at the end of the day. Granted Morné Steyn and Juandre Kruger are now back in Pretoria but sometimes you need experience in more than one or two specialist positions. Some have been critical of Steyn since his return to South Africa from playing in the Top 14 but I thought he was one of the star players for the Bulls this past weekend. My former teammate is getting back into it and he played well against the Blues. He is getting better every game. I would like to see him take the ball to the line more but he also has a great boot on him. He has shown that if he is within 50 metres of the posts, he is going to slot the three points. Losing to the Blues in the last minute at Loftus Versfeld was far from ideal and I could feel the players’ pain. Having suffered three losses in a row, the competition becomes more difficult for the Bulls but it’s not over just yet.
Sport24 asked: What is your assessment of the table-topping Stormers?
Wynand Olivier: I must say I have actually enjoyed the type of rugby the Stormers have played. The Cape-based side have been brilliant up til now and I just hope that they can keep it up. The impact a guy like Jamie Roberts has made in the midfield is actually pretty good. When he gets go-forward, 99 percent of the time he touches the ball. That sets the whole motion for the side and allows the Stormers to gain momentum. The Stormers’ success is a good sign for South African rugby and you have also got the Sharks who have been playing some great rugby. Guys have made a step up from last year and it’s just about carrying it through to the rest of the season. I think South African rugby is in a healthy situation at the moment. The Stormers and Sharks have both beaten New Zealand sides this season and the 2019 World Cup showed that it’s possible to beat the men from the Land of the Long White Cloud. Whereas, in previous years there had been a stigma that whenever you play against the All Blacks you are going to lose no matter whether you play home or away. Our mindset within SA rugby has shifted and our teams believe it’s possible to win against New Zealand sides. If the Stormers retain their structure and not allow themselves to get caught up in the Blues’ loose game then staying undefeated is definitely possible. The Stormers’ forwards have been dominant and they can lay the platform for victory against a Blues side I haven’t really been impressed with. They don’t have the personnel they used to where they could break a game down and score three tries within five minutes. I feel the Blues are definitely there for the taking at Newlands on Saturday.
Sport24 asked: Your take on South Africa potentially joining the Six Nations?
Wynand Olivier: Logistically it makes more sense than their participation in the Rugby Championship. South Africa operates in the same time zone as the Six Nations teams but, for me, it’s always nice to see the Springboks play against the All Blacks as its strength versus strength. It’s a difficult decision and I’m quite happy I’m not the one who has to make the call. If South Africa leave the Rugby Championship, the question is where does New Zealand go? They also want to play in a competition which promotes strength versus strength but if you look at other teams in their time zone, it’s not the level of strength they will want to play against. They want to compete with the best sides in the world. Furthermore, in terms of the Six Nations, it’s one of the best tournaments in the world and the question is do you want to mess with the format and make it the Seven Nations? It’s quite a difficult situation and I’m glad it’s a decision for the men in suits to make rather than myself.
Sport24 asked: How do you look back on your time in the green and gold jersey?
Wynand Olivier: I was fortunate to have been part of great Springbok sides from 2006 to 2014 when I played my last Test. My goal was always to play 50 Tests (Olivier represented South Africa 38 times and started 22 matches) because it’s always nice reaching certain milestones. Unfortunately, I never got to that point but circumstances change and everyone’s path differs. Nevertheless, I was a World Cup-winner in 2007 and was part of the Springbok side which defeated the British and Irish Lions in 2009. Those achievements were special and I’m part of a small group of guys who can say they have been part of something like that. It’s always nice looking back and reflecting on what you achieved.
Sport24 asked: Do you like the Damian de Allende/Lukhanyo Am centre pairing?
Wynand Olivier: They boast different abilities, so as a midfield combination they complement each other very well. You can see that the more they play together, the better they understand each other. De Allende came into his own towards the end of the World Cup and made a massive step up in the semi-final and final and Am had a solid tournament and underlined his value to the team. Playing at No.12 versus No.13 is a whole different dynamic. If you use your inside centre as a battering ram then the outside centre needs to be a ball distributor. It’s different but I enjoyed playing both positions… Jesse Kriel had to spend some time on the bench and while it’s never nice to be left out of the starting XV, it’s still good to be part of the squad. When I was playing for the Springboks we had the likes of Frans Steyn, Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie in the mix. The quality of player was just unbelievable and competition for places then and now is healthy for a squad. It means that the players keep pushing each other and it’s actually something that you want in a side.
Sport24 asked: Are the rejuvenated French on course for a prized Grand Slam?
Wynand Olivier: It’s definitely on the table for France to win the Six Nations and claim the Slam for the first time since 2010. In all honesty, I would actually enjoy it if they do. Fabien Galthie, who replaced Jacques Brunel, has brought a culture where the guys enjoy playing rugby again. He has introduced confidence to the side and you can also see the work South African kicking coach Vlok Cilliers has done with impressive flyhalf Romain Ntamack. The 20-year-old is exuding confidence in his kicking and overall game. Sometimes the only thing players need is a little bit of confidence and you can see what that has done for France. In the last couple of years, it has been difficult for France because foreigners have come in and they haven’t been able to develop certain positions. However, they now have a massive pack of forwards that get them go-forward which allows the backline to play more rugby and enjoy what they do. Having struggled in the last few years in the Six Nations, they now actually have an opportunity for a Grand Slam. I think it’s phenomenal for world rugby to have a side like France being where they are and the competition in the Six Nations is very exciting.
Sport24 asked: Three dream dinner guests. Who would you choose and why?
Wynand Olivier: I would invite American president Donald Trump. I think an evening with him could be quite interesting. I would like to chat to him about his political views and some of the decisions he makes. He is obviously also a very shrewd businessman and he seems to have opinions on many different topics. In the sports realm, I would extend an invitation to David Beckham. Even back in the day, he transcended the sport and always made the step up no matter how big the occasion. He also embraced off-the-field activities and built a brand for himself. He is now the co-owner of Inter Miami CF and I quite like his approach of staying in sport albeit on the corporate side. You must give the 44-year-old credit for his ambition because not many guys have been able to do what he has done. My third guest would be Richard Branson. I have always been a fan of his, having built the whole Virgin brand from scratch. I have read most of his books and he has been quite brilliant as a businessman.