South African Rugby
Habana still has plenty to give
November 11, 2009
Despite an amazing 2009, Bryan Habana still has plenty of ambition © Getty Images
This year has been good to Bryan Habana. The wing claimed a Tri-Nations title and a series victory over the British & Irish Lions in Springbok colours, complementing the Super 14 title won with the Bulls following a rollicking victory over the Chiefs in May.
The Currie Cup was the final piece of the jigsaw and it was duly collected in October, in his final game before leaving Pretoria and the Bulls for a new challenge in Cape Town with Western Province and the Stormers. His two tries in the final secured a thrilling win over the Free State Cheetahs and completed his southern hemisphere trophy haul. You'd expect the man to kick back and enjoy life in the slow lane for once, but that's not on the cards. The aim is 2011 and a defence of the Springboks' World Cup crown.
"I don't think this is where I want to be. There's a lot that I'd like to achieve. I want to be there in 2011 in New Zealand defending the World Cup," he told ESPNScrum. "For me to have been involved in that environment and make a contribution has been fantastic. The desire does not stop here.
"I'd love to be a part of the 2011 setup. We have an opportunity. Victor [Matfield] and Bakkies [Botha] will have probably played 75 Tests together as a lock pairing and played over 100 Tests each. Fourie du Preez will have probably been known as the best player in the world for two years in a row. Heinrich Brussow will probably be a part of a loose trio with someone like Pierre Spies and Schalk Burger.
"There's just so much available and to look forward to in South Africa. As great as this year's been, it would be such a shame if we let it go to waste. A lot of talk is always about peaking at the right time and I think we've got an opportunity, if we put pressure on ourselves to perform and maintain success."
Habana's desire to improve extends to his domestic career, where his move to Western Province has allowed him a new view of the sport. A player with over 50 Tests under his belt and myriad experiences to call on, he believes it's time to take on added leadership responsibility, and to turn to a cliché, 'give something back'. Like so many young South Africans he looks back on their 1995 Rugby World Cup win for inspiration and he hopes that this current crop of players can leave a similar mark.
"To be able to play 54 Tests, score 35 tries and make a contribution not only to the upper echelons of the economic group within South Africa but to people from all races, all heritages and all backgrounds has been fantastic," he said. "I could only have dreamed when I watched Joel Stransky kick that drop-kick over back in 1995 that I'd be sitting here being privileged enough to be part of such a setup.
"I'm moving into a new setup at Western Province. I'm 26 years old and rugby is not going to go on forever. I've been very fortunate to be part of a setup where I've always been successful. The foundation I've laid at the Bulls and what I've been able to learn I can offer to Western Province.
"They're developing in to a great side. For me to come in after experiencing so much success with the Bulls at Super Rugby level and being able to help the development of younger players is an exciting prospect.
"Being able to mentor guys, just as Percy Montgomery mentored me when I got into the Springboks setup, is exciting. At the Bulls you've got 15 players who could fit in to the Springboks setup. The rebuilding phase at Western Province excites me. Change is as good as a holiday and I'm excited about what I can offer Western Province and what they can offer me. I'd like to be seen as a senior player."
Before he can get stuck in at Province, however, there's the small matter of November Tests against France, Italy and Ireland and his second appearance in the black and white of the Barbarians. Having faced a number of Ireland's Grand Slam-winners in the red of the Lions and watched France turn over New Zealand this summer, he's under no illusions about the mindset that is required.
"South Africa has had a very good year but there's always a thing that we can come towards the end of the season and be tired, be lethargic," he said. "Because of what we've achieved we are really excited about coming to the northern hemisphere and playing against the two best unions in France and Ireland.
"I think both sides will be utterly, utterly competitive. We're not expecting either side to roll over. It's the first time I'll be playing a Test in Toulouse and then Croke Park. That's a fantastic stadium. We went to Lansdowne Road in 2006 and we knew how hectic that experience was for opposition. Croke Park is going to be a little bit worse!"
Despite a gruelling international season, Habana took no time in deciding to represent the Barbarians once again, this time against the All Blacks at Twickenham on December 5.
"What an exciting time, to be part of the most privileged invitation," he said. "Guys like Matt Giteau, George Smith, a couple of Springboks also, being able to come back and play in a no-pressure match. As much as we'd love to win, it is special and unique, as the Barbarians are. It will truly cap a memorable year and one I'll never forget."
Bryan Habana was speaking ahead of the Barbarians' showdown with All Blacks at Twickenham on December 5. Tickets are available from ticketmaster.co.uk or by calling 0844 8472492
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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