A hundred reasons to smile

Jean de Villiers and Bryan Habana deserve to be celebrated regardless of the Springboks' results in Australasia, writes JON CARDINELLI.

Forget the result in Perth. It may have been a big loss in the context of the 2014 Rugby Championship, but is insignificant in the context of a 100-Test career.

I don't think anybody is going to argue with me when I say that Bryan Habana will not be remembered for his performance in Perth, but for the magic and inspiration he gave so many over the course of a lengthy and illustrious career.

As sports fans, we are told that we should judge everything by the most recent result. We are told that a team is only as good as its last result, and that a great player is only as good as his last performance. While I would agree with that to a point, there should also be room for reflection on a player's career as a whole.

I put this to former Bok captain John Smit when I visited him at his then club, Saracens, in 2012. I asked if there were any regrets after his career had ended on such a disappointing note with a defeat to Australia in the 2011 World Cup quarter-final.

Smit said that while he felt disappointment at first, he eventually started to view his Test career in its entirety. It was only after putting the past behind him that he was able to reflect on what he did for the Boks during a 11-year career, both as a captain and as a player. He didn't say it, but he had good reason to feel proud.

The same is true of Habana, who marked his 100th Test this past Saturday with a gutting loss to the Wallabies. It will be some time before the iconic winger is allowed to reflect on the milestone, as there is still the matter of three Rugby Championship Tests to contend with over the next four weeks. However, when he finds the time to look back, he should also be proud of what he's done for South African rugby.

The stat of 56 Test tries speaks of Habana's game-shaping influence, although his value should not be measured solely by the number of tries he's scored. Indeed, even when the winger struggled during the years of 2010 and 2011, there was a refusal to accept defeat that was in itself inspirational. It's worth stating the obvious: if Habana had given up following that shocking run of form, he would not have reached 100 Tests.

Habana is back to his best, and continues to inspire. Jean de Villiers is in the same category of player who is universally liked and respected, not only for what he has achieved with the Boks over the past 12 years in terms of tries and results, but for the manner in which he has played and conducted himself. Habana and De Villiers have brought more to the game than numbers could possibly indicate.

Earlier this week, De Villiers said that he didn't want his own 100-Test milestone to distract the team from the task at hand. The Boks need to beat the All Blacks this Saturday in order to stay in the running for the Rugby Championship title. But if one is to take a step back and consider the bigger picture, it's more important that De Villiers receives his due for a career in its entirety.

It's been rumoured that both Habana and De Villiers will be honoured accordingly when the Boks play their next home game against the Wallabies on 27 September. Both men might be tempted to ignore the fanfare and focus on what they have to do in the subsequent 80 minutes.

Perhaps it would be better to savour the moment. Regardless of the result in Wellington this Saturday, or in the following Test in Cape Town, Habana and De Villiers's status as legends of the game will not be under threat.

Like Percy Montgomery, Smit, and Victor Matfield before them, these South African centurions deserve recognition for the service they've rendered over a long period of time. Their overall contribution, and indeed the magic that they've brought to the game, will be remembered long after one or two results are forgotten.

Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix

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Jon Cardinelli