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Oliver enters while Hoeft exits

Friday, September 23, 2005    allblacks.com    

Oliver injured his calf muscle on May 7 while playing for the Highlanders against the Crusaders and has been in rehabilitation throughout the DHL NZ Lions Series and Philips Test Series.

He makes his 2005 Air New Zealand NPC debut this weekend against Taranaki and he is excited about the next step in is recovery.

“I’ve been running for 25 days. I improved every day after it happened but progress has tapered back to every two or three days now,” he told allblacks.com.

“It’s going to take a long long time for my calf muscle to get to the normal strength levels it was before the injury but it’s at a stage where I can run around so that’s good enough to play football.”

Oliver has played twice for the Otago B side (30 and 80 minutes respectively) in recent weeks so he will not be without some match conditioning, however he still understands the challenge of stepping up to a Division One contest. “The main concern for me is my fitness. For four months I haven’t been running and playing rugby. So I get tired exceedingly quickly.

“I have been rowing and surfing but that’s completely different to rugby – all of a sudden I have to work against gravity and it’s tough. But I wouldn’t be playing if I think my injury would inhibit my performance; I just wouldn’t put my hand up.”

Oliver has been in favour with the All Blacks selectors since his recall to last year’s end-of-year tour to Europe, and hopes to be among the 35-man squad touring the United Kingdom and Ireland in November. However there is business to attend before that deal is struck: “The key goal is to see Otago into the semis and perhaps the final – it would be crucial for the province if we could do that.

“If we did that, the more games I play and the more opportunity I have to press for the end-of-year tour.

“I’ve got an outside chance given my lack of football but I have to make the most of it.”

If a black jersey wasn’t enough motivation to win this weekend’s NPC match Oliver and co want to send his front row partner Carl Hoeft to France on a winning note. He and Hoeft first met in New Zealand age grade squads as teenagers and have also played 28 Internationals together.

“We met in the trials for the NZ Under 19s and he’s a tremendously loyal and honest person and it has been a pleasure to have known him for so long.

“Hoefty’s quite an idiosyncratic chap – there are so many ‘Hoeftisms’ out there that people close to him know and that’s what makes him so endearing – mundane things that no one else might get amusement from but he does. Then, in turn we get amusement from his amusement.

“It’s a brilliant opportunity for him and his family, it’s quite a sea change for him and I think he is capable of a lot more in his life than what some people give him credit for so I’m looking forward to seeing him extend himself.”

Oliver, Hoeft and Kees Meeuws were the rock of the Otago and Highlanders pack for almost a decade and Oliver says Meeuws’ move to France earlier this year created an opportunity for Hoeft’s departure. Oliver also believes individual success was accelerated through their on-field partnership.

“I think we would have all made it in the end, but I think the speed with which we made the All Blacks was certainly enhanced by playing together. Particularly in 1998 and ’99 with Otago and the Highlanders – we were young and fit and took everyone on.”

Fitness is again the key for Oliver to regain his All Blacks jumper and the first real test comes tomorrow against Taranaki. The only thing he wants to have lost after the full 80 minutes will traveling to France to play club rugby for Castres.

Otago v Taranaki, Dunedin
Kick-off: Saturday at 5.30pm
Referee: Gary Wise (Hawke’s Bay)
TAB odds: Otago $1.30, Taranaki $3.30