Habana driven by Bok heroes of 1995

Bryan Habana was named after a former England soccer captain and could have been a top-class international sprinter but, thanks to the Springboks’ 1995 World Cup success, he turned to rugby.

The 24-year-old winger could clinch a memorable double on Saturday in the World Cup final against England.

He could become the record try scorer for a World Cup—he moved alongside Jonah Lomu’s 1999 tally of eight with two against Argentina in Sunday’s semifinal—and also help his side be crowned world champions.

The Bulls star, who was part of the team that clinched South Africa’s first Super 14 title this year, beating the Natal Sharks, said that the experience of being exposed to top-class rugby in 1995 inspired him to take up the sport.

“It was an amazing experience that I will never forget,” said Habana, whose father Bernie named him Bryan after former England football captain Bryan Robson.

“It was the first time I watched rugby. I watched the opening game against Australia [in Cape Town]. Then we moved to Johannesburg to watch the quarterfinal, then to Durban for the semifinal against France and came back to Johannesburg for the final.
I didn’t even know the rules.

“Going to the final was a great experience. I remember we were all very proud of being South Africans,” added Habana.

Habana, who as a youngster was clocked at 11 seconds for the 100m, said that equalling Lomu’s record—he is now out on his own as second leading try-scorer for the Springboks with 30 in 34 Tests—only pushed him to get better.

“I still have room for improvement,” said Habana. “At international level, you can never say you are the best until the day you retire.

“Much more important is to contribute to the team.

“I hope I will make one or two more contributions on Saturday. At the beginning of the tournament, we made it clear than no individual would be bigger than the Springboks. The Springboks come first.”

Those sentiments were echoed by coach Jake White.

“Habana is great,” said the 43-year-old.

“However, he is as appreciative of the ball that the team turns over to create his opportunities as he is of his own contribution.”

Habana credits the veterans in the team such as Os du Randt—the sole survivor from the 1995 World Cup-winning team—and fullback Percy Montgomery for getting him and the younger players through to the final.

“When you have leaders like John Smit or Percy Montgomery, it makes things easier,” said Habana.

“We have worked a lot to achieve this goal the last four years. We are a country of 45-million people and we have put in place a special team over the last four years.”

However, Habana acknowledges that there is unlikely to be a repeat of the 36-0 walloping of England—a record World Cup defeat for the titleholders—from the pool stage.

“It’s going be a lot different because five weeks ago, Jonny Wilkinson didn’t play.

“He is not a world champion for nothing. He scored a drop goal in the last final.

“Jonny has brought his experience here from 2003 and you cannot buy this experience. What’s happened in the first game will have no consequence on next week. It will be a different game.

“They have 12 guys in the team who still are world champions. That’s going be a lot tougher.”—Sapa-AFP

Pirate Irwin

Pirate Irwin

Pirate Irwin is a journalist with Agence France Presse , who has been based in Paris for 16 years having initially arrived for just a six month summer stay. Born in Ireland in 1965 and educated at Eton and Institute for Foreign Students in Tours after missing out on University by a large margin. His first name is a gift from his grandfather inspired by Radio Caroline but not appreciated by a Roman Catholic priest at christening.  Read more from Pirate Irwin

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