Bryan Habana ranks among rugby’s greatest ever players

Rugby


There will inevitably be lots of pressure on you as a sportsman when your dad decides to name you after Manchester United greats Bryan Robson and Gary Bailey.

But it’s fair to say that Bryan Gary Habana has surpassed his father Bernie’s greatest expectations as an international sportsman.

The Springboks’ greatest try-scorer has bid farewell to rugby after a 15-year career. Habana spent 12 of those years in the green and gold of his country, with the last of his 124 Tests coming against Italy in 2016.

It was clear from his first touch during his Boks debut against England at Twickenham in 2004 that the speedster was destined for great things. He scored the first of his 67 Test tries shortly after going on as a substitute by skinning England’s defence with a breakneck turn of pace.

That was but a brief glimpse of Habana’s compact, but balanced, running style, and it became a familiar sight over the next decade.

There is certainly no substitute for pace, which Habana frequently showcased in the Tri-Nations in 2005 — his second season of international rugby. His speed was raw, pace in its most primitive form. “Get ball, run straight.”

But Habana was more than just an oaf who could run, because you don’t score 335 international points with speed alone.

He didn’t possess the stepping ability of a Jason Robinson, or a Shane Williams, and he didn’t have the size of a Jonah Lomu to bulldoze opponents, but his speed combined with anticipation, ability to be in the right place at the right time and hunger to succeed made him one of the most dangerous attacking players of the modern era.

He didn’t only score tries such as the those at Twickenham and Perth, where he flew down the touchline like a fighter jet. He scored also a lot of intercepts, which require timing and anticipation, while he once scored a try against the All Blacks by collecting his own kick after running a great line to break the defence.

Habana will go down as a proper match-winner, and a player who played a massive part in the golden period of South African rugby in the late 2000s.

His contributions in South Africa’s Rugby World Cup triumph in 2007, when he scored a record eight tries, will undoubtedly be his career highlight, especially after he was also voted the IRB’s World Rugby Player of the Year at the conclusion of that tournament.

But he also scored crucial tries in the 2009 series win over the British & Irish Lions, which will forever be remembered by rugby fanatics across the length and breadth of the the rainbow nation.

Those trophies will go down as his most cherished achievements, but they were certainly not the only ones he won.

Habana’s most famous try came in the 2007 Super Rugby final between the Bulls and Sharks, when he went over to post the winning score after a great solo run, cutting inside and leaving defenders for dead.

Throw in another Super Rugby triumph with the Bulls in 2009, a Currie Cup with Western Province in 2012, two European Champions Cups and a Top 14 title with Toulon, and Habana has had one of the more remarkable careers in the game of rugby.

Habana will rightly go down as one of South Africa’s greatest rugby players, before and after unity. His rugby prowess on the field and his professionalism off it made him a great role model for South African kids from all walks of life.

Bryan Robson and Gary Bailey will go down as Manchester United legends, but Bryan Gary Habana will be regarded as one of rugby’s greatest ever players.



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