The tries that defined Habana

Springbok legend Bryan Habana told the world on Tuesday that he’ll be welcoming retirement in for a drink at the end of the European season.

The 34-year-old will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest players ever to slip on the green-and-gold jersey. With 123 Test appearances, he is the second-most-capped Bok, just one cap behind Victor Matfield’s 124. Habana also has the second-highest tally of international tries in the world with 67 — just two behind the record holder, Japan’s Daisuke Ohata.

He has had success at franchise level too, and still holds the record for the most tries in Super Rugby by a South African.

The Mail & Guardian took on the impossible task of picking the most defining of his many, many tries.

Springboks vs England, 2004

After making his Currie Cup debut for the Golden Lions earlier that year, a 21-year-old Habana found himself on the bench at an intimidating Twickenham. With the game in doubt, Jake White threw on the youngster to give him a first Test cap against the World Cup champions at the time.

A few moments later, flyhalf Jaco van der Westhuizen broke free and fed a rampaging Habana, who crossed the line with his first touch of an international rugby ball.

The tone was set. In the next two games of the tour, he was selected in the starting line-up and only a year later he was named the 2005 South African player of the year.

Blue Bulls vs Sharks, Super 14 final, 2007

Losing 19-13 to the Sharks after the clock had already passed the 80th minute, the Blue Bulls needed something special to claim the Super 14 title. In steps Habana.

Popping up on the right wing, the No 11 shrugged off a challenge before carrying the ball inside and finding a pocket of space to burst through. His centre line and signature dive gave Derick Hougaard an easy conversation to confirm the win.

Springboks vs Samoa, World Cup, 2007

Habana scored four tries in the Springboks’ 59-7 trouncing of Samoa. The islanders simply had no answer to the winger’s velocity and power, as he brushed off tackle after tackle and left other would-be challengers flat-footed with his change of pace.

The four tries would help him to equal two Jonah Lomu records. That World Cup he dotted down eight times, the most in a single tournament. In 2015, he matched Lomu’s record of 15 tries in all World Cup games.

Springboks vs Argentina, World Cup, 2007

The first of those joint records came a few games later, in the semifinal against Argentina. The game began and ended with stellar interceptions — Fourie du Preez snatching the first one. As Argentina continued with their futile attempts to repair the scoreline five minutes from time, the world’s fastest player (at the time) showed up with a trademark interception and was on the other side of the pitch a few eye-blinks later.

The image of him bolting across the green, isolated by his sheer speed, summed up that year’s tournament. South Africa would go on to beat England in the final, giving the nation its second Webb Ellis Cup.

Stormers vs Lions, Super Rugby, 2012

If there’s one try that encapsulated both Habana’s speed and determination, it was this one. It was also the one that took the winger to 50 Super Rugby tries, the first South African to do so.

Chasing his own kick from 40m out, Habana left the opposing Lions players scrambling to remain even in touching distance of his shadow.

The ball bounced horribly past the try line, looking certain to spin out of play.

One dignified lunge later, however, and the ball had been dotted down to confirm one of the finest tries of that season’s tournament.

Habana would that year go on to win the world Try of the Year award for his super effort against New Zealand in the inaugural Rugby Championship.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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