Wynand Olivier has backed his Blue Bulls and Springbok teammate Bryan Habana to return to his brilliant best, also revealing what is behind the IRB Player of the Year’s current slump in form after the Bok flyer and International Rugby Board (IRB) Player of the Year was named on Wednesday to start in his first Currie Cup game of the season.
Rugby 365 reports that the Bulls take on the defending champion Free State Cheetahs in a must-win Round 12 fixture in Bloemfontein and Habana has returned to the side after recovering from a succession of injuries.
Olivier, speaking in an online chat on the Bulls’ website, revealed that the injuries may have been a contributing factor to Habana’s below par performances – by his own lofty standards – this year.
The injury setbacks started back in February when Habana sustained a rib injury in a pre-season game against the Lions in Windhoek, before he damaged his shoulder in the opening round of the Super 14 competition against the Stormers at Newlands.
The shoulder injury continued to trouble him throughout the year.
However, more setbacks were to follow. The star of last year’s World Cup-winning Bok team suffered a knee injury in the Test against Wales in June and after having worked his way back to some sort of fitness, the wing then damaged his hamstring during the Boks’ 0-19 whitewash at the hands of New Zealand at Newlands last month. The ‘grade one tear’ ruled him out for the remainder of the Tri-Nations as well as several weeks of Currie Cup action.
However, Habana was declared fit by Bulls doctor Org Strauss on Tuesday and will look to regain the form that made him such a big hit on the World Cup stage last year.
Olivier was quick to defend Habana’s patchy form this year when asked about the star wing in his online chat.
“Bryan has been struggling with some injuries and even though it’s been a while since he has played [August 16], once he starts playing he will be back to his best in no time,” Olivier said.
Olivier was also asked about the possibility of Habana moving off his wing into the midfield, to form a partnership with Olivier.
“We played together as a centre combination in two games for the South African Under-21 team and it went very well back then,” Olivier said of his combination with the Bok flyer back in 2004
However, Olivier felt it may not be a good move for Habana to change positions again.
“It would be interesting to see how we go as a centre combination, but he is the best wing in the world and I’m not sure it would be a good idea to play him out of position,” Olivier added.
Olivier also touched on the Bulls’ trip to Bloemfontein, which he said will be a “very tough game”, despite the Cheetahs having lost their last few games.
“It is always a tough game against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein and I think it is going to be a very physical battle,” he added.
* Meanwhile Bulls coach Frans Ludeke confirmed the selection of both Habana and fellow Bok Danie Rossouw in his starting XV for Saturday’s trip to Bloemfontein.
Rossouw will scrum down in the second row alongside Victor Matfield, who also returns after resting last week and takes over the captaincy from Wikus van Heerden.
Specialist openside flank Deon Stegmann was recalled and will partner Van Heerden at the side of the scrum, while Pierre Spies takes Dewald Potgieter’s place at No.8.
Potgieter will be the loose forward reserve and as a result of Ludeke’s four/three bench there weren’t any room for Pedrie Wannenburg or Jacques Burger.
Jaco Engels was selected at loosehead prop, following Gurthrö Steenkamp’s hand fracture – suffered in last Friday’s rout against the Boland Cavaliers – and Marius Delport got the nod ahead of Wayne Julies as Olivier’s centre partner.
Blue Bulls: 15 Tiger Mangweni, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Marius Delport, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Wikus van Heerden, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Rayno Gerber, 2 Derick Kuün, 1 Jaco Engels.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Juandré Kruger, 19 Dewald Potgieter, 20 Heini Adams, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Zane Kirchner.