CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – If ever a player mirrored the speed and agility of the Springbok it was surely South Africa wing Bryan Habana, who would forge a reputation as one of rugby’s all-time great finishers over his 12-year international career.
Habana was instrumental in the Boks lifting the Rugby World Cup in 2007, the same season in which he was named IRB Player of the Year, and two years later shone as South Africa defeated the British & Irish Lions.
Inspired to take up the game by the Boks’ victory in the 1995 World Cup, he ended his career in 2016 as one of the greatest players ever to have pulled on the famous green and gold jersey.
He started from humble beginnings, but his 67 test tries is second only to Japan’s Daisuke Ohata (69) on the all-time list.
With the greatest respect to the latter, Habana’s opposition was almost exclusively top-tier nations rather than Chinese Tapei, Korea, Hong Kong or the Arabian Gulf.
“I am not going to mention the amount of my contract when I was first called into that Springbok squad under Jake White in 2004, but I don’t think there is a schoolboy rugby player in South Africa who would accept that deal now,” Habana told Reuters, before revealing how the 2007 World Cup win shot him to global fame.
“I got to be in a Gillette campaign with Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and Thierry Henry.
“But I sort of feel embarrassed I got the IRB Player of the Year prize that season. Yes I had an impact, but any one of eight players in that Springbok side could have got it as well.
“Scoring tries potentially highlighted me a bit more than someone like Juan Smith, who was phenomenal to say the least in that World Cup.”
Habana claimed the Super Rugby title twice with the Bulls, and was also a two-time European Rugby Champions Cup winner with French side Toulon.
His final test came during one of the Boks’ lowest ebbs as they battled for form in 2016, and lost for the only time ever to Italy in Florence.
But that proved one of the few disappointments for Habana, who became the first player of colour to notch a century of tests for the Boks, ending his career with 124, second behind former lock Victor Matfield (127).
“The best moment of my career was getting the opportunity to pull on the Springbok jersey for the first time and run out for my country,” Habana said.
“To understand the privilege that it was, and to understand the responsibility that was bestowed on me to do that.
“Then to run out and be ignited to not just want to do this once, but to do it 10 times, 50 times, and become the first player of colour to do it 100 times.
“And to use the platform to make a difference to not only the team you are involved in, but hopefully to inspire so many more (players).”
(Reporting By Nick Said; Editing by Christian Radnedge)