Olivier, the key distributor in the Bulls backline and an imposing defensive and creative force, missed last weekend’s come-from-behind semi-final victory against the Canterbury Crusaders with a hip injury. His return was confirmed yesterday with 50,000 Blue Bulls fans expected to be in full voice at the daunting Loftus Versfeld stadium.
The Chiefs will be up against a side that finished on top of the round-robin log and contains the core of the teams that won both the 2007 World Cup for South Africa and the Bulls’ first Super 14 title that year.
The Bulls have not lost at home this year and are on a 10-match winning streak in Pretoria, but Chiefs coach Ian Foster sent the favourites a defiant message.
“We would have preferred 25,000 supporters cheering for us, but we are looking forward to the intensity that comes with a game at Loftus,” he said.
“The stadium and the spectators are unique and feared, but we won’t be intimidated, because the round-robin fixture in Pretoria last month (which the Bulls won 33-27) counts in our favour because the players know what to expect.”
The Bulls are likely to call on their physically imposing pack to lay a platform from which halfbacks Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn can dictate affairs with their astute kicking games. They are likely to attack only from Chiefs territory, but when they do they have highly dangerous runners in the likes of eighthman Pierre Spies, wing Bryan Habana and fullback Zane Kirchner.
“It is a new game and anything can happen, but we know that we need to play for the full 80 minutes against a team such as the Chiefs,” Bulls captain Victor Matfield said.
“What we have done in the round-robin stage of the competition means nothing in a final, but we will definitely use that foundation [tomorrow].
“We must have a great work ethic from the first to the last minute and grind out the right result. It is all about using and creating opportunities and absorbing the pressure that comes with a game like this,” Matfield said.
The Chiefs camp has also been boosted by the return to fitness of All Black outside centre Richard Kahui, although wing Sitiveni Sivivatu, a key figure in their semi-final victory over the Wellington Hurricanes, is out with a shoulder injury.
Meanwhile Hoani MacDonald and Ashley Smith both make their returns from injury to start for the Dragons side against Rugby Calvisano in Italy for the crucial Heineken Cup qualification match tonight (8pm Irish).
Jason Tovey replaces Martyn Thomas at fullback whilst Japanese international James Arlidge comes in at 10 and Rory Sidey joins Smith in the centres.
NEWPORT GWENT DRAGONS: J Tovey, G Wyatt, R Sidey, A Smith, R Fussell, J Arlidge, W Evans, A Black, T Willis (c), R Thomas, H MacDonald, L Charteris, D Lydiate, C Hill, L Evans
Replacements: S Jones, N Hall, G Webb, A Hall, A Walker, A Brew, M Thomas
RUGBY CALVISANO: L Mclean, W Mafi, M Pratichetti, G Garcia, L Nitoglia, G Fraser, P Griffen, A Mckenzie, L Ghiraldini (c), H Tui, P Sidoli, C Treloar, D Dal Maso, A Persico, A Zanni.
Replacements: B Evans, T D’Apice, V Bernabo, N Cattina, P Patelli, G Raineri, P Buso.