Rugby World Cup
Respect bonds Bryan Habana and Julian Savea as they chase greatness
Tom Hamilton
October 23, 2015
Players to watch: Wingers key to final place

TWICKENHAM, London -- One packs the punch of a bus; the other raced an Airbus. If Julian Savea and Bryan Habana both score on Saturday at Twickenham, records will tumble. Both will stand on their respective left wings with Jonah Lomu sitting in the stands, watching on with his name inevitably linked with any winger-related greatness that plays out in the Rugby World Cup semifinal.

If Savea scores against South Africa, he will break Habana and Lomu's record of eight scores in one tournament. If Habana crosses, he will overtake Lomu's record of 15 World Cup tries. And then completing the triangle between the triumvirate is Savea's standing as New Zealand's new Lomu, a comparison which does not sit easily on his shoulders.

"It is always an honour to be compared to him but my focus is what I can do for this team this weekend," Savea said on Thursday with a straight-bat Ian Bell would be proud of. But while Savea has Habana's record in his sights, he will also be looking to rid himself of an albatross he shares with Lomu. Neither Lomu nor Savea have scored against the Springboks over a joint 18 Tests.

New Zealand favourites for heavyweight clash

Habana has fared better with seven tries in 22 appearances against the All Blacks but in the general exchanging of pre-match platitudes, he heaped praise at the feet of Savea after his hat-trick against France last weekend.

"I have complete respect for Julian Savea," Habana said. "He has been playing unbelievable rugby for three seasons now. There have been comparisons with him and the great Jonah Lomu and if you look at the try-scoring feats, he went past Jonah this weekend as well. He is not only physical, not only got unbelievable pace, but has improved his all-round game. The way he works off his wing, his kicking game has improved."

The talk of Savea's improvement was covered on Thursday. At the start of their World Cup preparations, the All Blacks winger was reportedly a kilogramme or two over the optimum weight. That excess was quickly trimmed but talking of his own ability as a winger, and the top try-scorer in the current incarnation, was hastily switched to mention of the team rather than the individual. "I've got a lot of confidence, but I'll leave any talk of being at my best," Savea said. "I'll strive to do best for team. That is where I am at." 

© Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images

While Habana would not talk up his own ability either, his teammate Schalk Burger did. "What can you say? He's scored 64 tries for South Africa; he's obviously the most capped back we've had and he's on 15 World Cup tries.

"I know Drew Mitchell is catching up quite fast and Julian, I think, has scored eight in this World Cup, if I'm not mistaken."

"Hopefully if we do our job we can get Bryan some space and he gets the record. He had a chance against America and fluffed that one, so hopefully he doesn't fluff the one on the weekend."

There are a multitude of subplots for Saturday's match revolving around records. Richie McCaw captains the All Blacks for a record 12th time in the World Cup, while Burger will appear in a World Cup for a 19th time, a record for a Springbok. But it is the wingers who will be the box office attraction.

For South Africa, their focus will be on stopping Savea. "Hopefully Julian never runs at me," Burger said. "That will be mildly terrifying to say the least. Hopefully JP Pietersen can keep him quiet." And then the All Blacks will be wary of Habana. "Wearing the same number, I always watched him growing up," Savea said. "Nehe [Milner-Skudder] has a big job ahead of him". They have talked all week of mutual respect, but it is also a case of joint damage limitation.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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