Jon Cardinelli

Habana: 50 and counting

While Bryan Habana is thrilled to have reached the 50-try milestone, there's a lot more that he wants to achieve with the Springboks, reports JON CARDINELLI in Pretoria.

Habana scored a brace in Saturday's Test against Samoa, taking his try tally for the Boks to 50 in 86 Tests. The iconic Bok wing already holds the South African record for the most Test tries, having surpassed Joost van der Westhuizen's 38 at the 2011 World Cup.

Habana quickly became a star following his performance at the 2007 World Cup in France. He equalled Jonah Lomu's record at that tournament for the most tries scored over the course of the competition (eight), and would go on to win the title with Jake White's Boks, as well as the IRB Player of the Year award.

There have been times in his career when he has struggled and when most people felt his best days were behind him. Indeed, when he broke Van der Westhuizen's record, it was against Namibia. Habana wasn't playing well at that point, and the 2011 World Cup was supposed to be his swansong.

Or so some of us thought. Habana continued to rage against the dying of the light and rediscovered some form in the 2012 Super Rugby competition.

He carried that through to the  subsequent Test series against England and the Rugby Championship. The start to the 2013 Test season has witnessed another prolific showing. In fact, since Heyneke Meyer took the Bok reins at the beginning of 2012, Habana has scored 10 tries in 12 Tests.

'Bryan has always played well for me,' Meyer said with a smile after the most recent fixture at Loftus Versfeld. It was at the Bulls where Meyer made his name as a coach, and also where Habana made his mark as a player. Several years later, and the two are working together again. It's clearly a relationship that brings out the best of Habana.

'Did he play well tonight? Well, he said before the game that he would score three tries, and he gave me two, so I suppose he's still one short,' Meyer joked.

The Bok coach praised the impact of one of his most senior players, and indeed there are other experienced members of the squad who hold Habana in high esteem.

Bok captain Jean de Villiers described Habana as world-class, and said that, even at the age of 30, Habana was still showing the youngers squad members how it was done.

The man himself said it was great to reach the magical mark of 50, but said there was more he wanted to achieve in the Bok jersey.

'There have been a lot of good times in my career, and some tough times too,' he said. 'I feel blessed to have come through the tough times and still be playing for the Boks today.

'It's great to reach 50 tries, but that doesn't mean I will stop putting pressure on myself to perform. You're never happy with your performance, there's always something you can improve on, and I will maintain that attitude going forward.'

While he continues to show his value as a game-breaker, Habana is mindful of his other responsibilities as a senior player. The recent quadrangular series has witnessed the rise of several young stars in the Bok backline: JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, and Willie le Roux.

'It's very exciting to see,' he said. 'There were a few injuries to more experienced players, but these younger guys have made their opportunities count. JJ is a guy who has really put his hand up. Willie showed his quality during the Super Rugby tournament and has brought that through to the Boks.'

Meyer said after the win against Samoa that the Boks still had some way to go before they would be ready to conquer the likes of Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand in the Rugby Championship. Habana agrees that the best is yet to come regarding the Bok performance.

'We've won three from three [in this quadrangular series], and the performance against Samoa saw a big improvement. It's good that we had this chance to learn and grow as a team.

'Having said that, we know the Rugby Championship is a different animal. We'll take the win tonight, but at the same time we will know that there's still much to be done before that competition.'

Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix

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