Sharksworld managed to catch up with new Sharks recruit Len Olivier for a quick chat.
Olivier, who is 22 years old, has played for the Valke since 2007. He’s been on the sidelines in recent weeks with an injury, so we asked how that was going. “I’m fine now,” he tells us, “I was probably about 90% ok to play this weekend, but Rudy [Joubert] told me he’d rather have me fit for the promotion-relegation games”. Having finished last in the Currie Cup Premier Division this year (on points difference), the Valke need to beat the Platinum Leopards home and away over the next fortnight to maintain their position in the top flight.
Olivier doesn’t seem too concerned at the prospect, though: “They’ll probably struggle with the pace of the game. We’re used to it, playing against Springboks, even though sometimes we lose by big margins.” He may have a point. Despite losing every single game in the Currie Cup last year, the Valke had no problems winning both relegation matches last year, highlighting the gulf in class between the two divisions of the Currie Cup.
We asked Len to give us a bit of background on where he comes from. “I grew up in Pretoria and went to Affies, where I played in the first team in 2003 and 2004.” I told Len that I had been to Pretoria Boys High and we had a great time reminiscing about the Souties beating a star-studded Affies team, captained by Pierre Spies, in Olivier’s standard 9 year. “That was the only time I lost to Boys’ High,” Len points out, so I kept my mouth shut from that point!
“I played Craven Week and then u19 and u21 rugby for the Bulls,” Olivier continues, “and we won most of our competitions at that level.” Faced with a difficult decision ahead of the 2006 season, Len and his father (also Len Olivier, a former provincial assistant coach) decided that the youngster’s best chance of career progression was to play senior rugby for a smaller union. Len tells us “Derrick Hougaard and Morne Steyn were the two senior flyhalves at the Bulls, and Jacques-Louis Potgieter and I played in the Vodacom Cup. He started six games and I started six games but because I was still a junior player, he went to the senior side and I stayed with the under 21s.
“I’m a different sort of guy. I can’t sit back and wait for things to happen; I want to play.” Olivier agreed a two-year deal with the Valke, but says it was always considered a stepping-stone for him, a way to get noticed playing against the big boys and hopefully secure a senior contract with a big union.
“I signed a contract with [French club] Aurilliac at the beginning of the season, but there were some things I still wasn’t happy about. You need to get a release from SARU before you can go to another country anyway, so the contract wasn’t really binding without that. Then we had a run of four or five very good matches with the Valke, starting off with losing narrowly to the Lions and the Sharks and then going on to beat Griquas and Western Province. [Sharks commercial manager] Rudolf Straueli called me after the WP game, while we were on the bus to Bloemfontein, to say they wanted to have a look at me.”
The Sharks flew Olivier to Durban to meet with coaches John Plumtree and Grant Bashford. “I stayed at Adrian Garvey’s guest house and they showed me around and took me through some videos, highlighting aspects of my game they thought were good and ones that needed attention,” Olivier tells us. “They particularly liked the way I attack the advantage line and can make decisions at the point of contact, although they want me to put on 4 or 5 kilos to make sure I can be effective knocking big guys back in the tackle. They were satisfied with my place-kicking.”
Olivier tells us that the high-risk running game the Valke have employed all season lead the Sharks coaches to enquire as to whether he had any sort of tactical boot. “I told them that playing for the Bulls I used to be very much a kicking flyhalf. You know how they like to play the game! I haven’t had to use my boot much with the game the Valke are playing.”
We asked Len if the coaches had laid out the role they see him playing. He said “they have a two-year-plan for me, which means Currie Cup next year and definitely Super 14 in 2010. They haven’t ruled out next year’s Super 14, though, so it’s up to me to see how I develop.” Olivier reckons his goals are realistic and he intends to take incremental steps towards his ultimate goal of playing Test rugby. “Some of us develop a little slower than the guys like Frans Steyn or Pierre Spies who are ready for Test rugby straight after school,” he says. Len realises that he first needs to get into the Sharks squad, then play Super 14 rugby and excel at that level before being considered for higher honours.
We spoke about the difficulty of playing against his good friends at the Bulls. Len is still very good mates with Pierre Spies and Deon Stegmann, amongst others. “You can be mates off the field, but you never think about that when you’re playing the game. Anyway, since I play at flyhalf, I concentrate a lot more on my own game and the things I need to do, rather than worrying about the other guys.”
Len Olivier has big things ahead. His contract with the Valke ends at the end of the month and he needs to report for pre-season training with the Sharks as early as the third week in November. In between, he has to face the small matter of moving from Pretoria (where he stays with his folks) to Durban, to a rented place of his own that he has yet to find. Len reckons the support of his girlfriend, Brunhilde Louw, is a real blessing to him as she is taking a leap of faith and moving to Durban too, despite the couple not being engaged yet.
Len Olivier is ready to make his mark at the Shark tank. “I’ve got the ability, now I just need to work hard and show what I can do,” he says. We have every faith in him and can’t wait to see him in action in the black and white.
Welcome to the Sharks, Len Olivier!Tweet