Century of games for Bulls' 'Tand'
You may know him by the whisp of his blond hair, his nickname or the debate he creates whenever he plays, but on Saturday, Vodacom Bulls midfielder Wynand Olivier will take the field to join an elite group of players who have played 100 games of Super Rugby.
The blond midfielder was the centre of debate before the third test against England when many questioned his selection, but a powerful defence and some strong running off the ball made him one of the few standout players in the Springbok setup as they settled for a disappointing 14-all draw in Port Elizabeth.
Olivier is overjoyed that the venue for his 100th game is Loftus Versfeld, especially as he grew up across the road, was schooled at Affies and made his way towards Loftus on the back of some exceptional junior performances after school.
Now, as one of the senior players in a young Bulls outfit, Olivier knows all about responsibility and what his task is on Saturday. The Bulls are by no means safe in their chase for the elusive playoff place in Super Rugby and only a victory against the old rivals, the Cheetahs will suffice.
The player who describes himself as “an ordinary boer lightie from the Free State” has come a long way from his roots in Welkom.
Often he has taken flack for his appearance, the mop of blond hair attracting nicknames like “meisiekind”, “nivea man” and “Mr X”, but always he has shown himself to be a rock solid midfield player who always gives his all for the team.
His Currie Cup debut was no less emotional. Having to step into the shoes of Ettienne Botha, whose death in a car accident rocked Loftus, Olivier had possibly the most difficult job to fill his boots. But he earned respect for the way he handled the matter, and the way he gave his all for the team as they swept to title after title after that.
There may be uncertainty about his future – Olivier says the Japanese deal has not been signed and sealed just yet – but after a career in Pretoria that included a Vodacom Cup, four Currie Cup titles and three Super Rugby winners' medals, as well as a 2007 Rugby World Cup winners medal, Olivier has achieved just about all there is to achieve.
He laughed when asked about his debut against the Highlanders, replacing Pierre Spies (who then played on the wing).
“I remember very little about it really, it went by so fast,” Olivier said, “I can’t believe its 100 already, but its all thanks to the Bulls family I’ve played with through the years and the friends who have supported me in my time here at Loftus.
“There is nothing better than to play your 100th game at a place like Loftus, and against an old enemy like the Cheetahs.”
YOUNG BLOOD MOTIVATED TO EMULATE LEGENDS
Olivier says the pressure of the legacy created by great players such as Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez and others forces the current young crop of Bulls players to work harder, so that the legacy doesn’t go to waste.
“Things have changed a bit, there is a lot of young blood in the team, and they are striving to keep up with the legend created by older guys like Victor and Fourie. All those players don’t want to let the other players down, and they train just as hard, if not harder.”
Olivier isn’t everyone’s favourite and he knows that. Despite solid performances in Super Rugby there are still many who question his value in the Bok team, but he has learnt to live with that and chooses now who he listens to for advice and criticism.
“Criticism isn’t nice at all, especially when you’re on the receiving end. But you do learn out of it and you learn to choose who you listen to, your teammates and family and friends, they also know you better and know what to say to turn it into a positive. But it is never nice, and the worst part is you, as player know when you’ve done something wrong.”
Olivier isn't sure of the reason for his current nickname “Tand”, but says it happened one Super Rugby tour and was dreamed up by teammate JP Nel.
“I’ve had many nicknames – “Meisiekind” was one that didn’t stick long, except in some sections of the public, and nobody really knows where that came from, while “Tand” is the one that stuck the most – thanks to JP and Cobus van der Walt.”
Either way, Olivier has become a fixture at Loftus and with his blond hair it is difficult to miss him. Final word then to his captain and teammate Pierre Spies, who underlined the importance of the milestone to players.
“Only the players really understand the worth of it, playing his 100th Super Rugby game and playing it at 29 years of age is really special,” said Spies.
“He made his debut the same day I did and he came on as a replacement for me on the wing. He is a great player and we are really proud of him for what he has done on the field.”
The match between the Bulls an Cheetahs kicks off at 7:10pm CAT (SA, GMT+2) on Saturday night.