Heyneke Meyer believes that Bryan Habana is hitting form and will be a key player in their World Cup quarter-final next week, reports JON CARDINELLI in London.
The Boks beat the USA 64-0 on Wednesday to top Pool B and secure their place in the play-offs. That, according to the South African coach, is one reason to celebrate. Another is the fact that the Boks survived the encounter at the Olympic Stadium without sustaining any major injuries.
Despite the shock loss to Japan on the first weekend of the tournament, the Boks remain in the running for the Webb Ellis Cup. They will play one of Australia or Wales in the quarter-final at Twickenham next week.
For now, they will savour the fact that they are through to the next round. And, as Meyer didn’t mind saying at the post-match press conference, they will celebrate Habana’s hat-trick.
The Bok winger is now level with All Blacks great Jonah Lomu with 15 World Cup tries. Habana could break that record next week. In doing so, he will surpass David Campese to become tier-one rugby’s most prolific try-scorer.
‘I asked Bryan, and indeed all the senior players, to step up these past three weeks,’ said Meyer. ‘I’ve told them that I need a big performance. We really needed Bryan to come through tonight, and he delivered.
‘It was a team effort, and I’m sure Bryan will be the first to thank his forwards for setting the platform. But take nothing away from him, he is starting to find form. He doesn’t have the speed [that he once had], but he hasn’t lost that ability to sniff out tries and take opportunities.
‘He’s peaking at the right time, and we are going to need his try-scoring ability in the play-offs,’ Meyer continued. ‘He’s a great team man, and I know that he thinks about things like tries or records in a team context. It would be great if he could break [Lomu’s] record for South Africa, and for himself.’
Habana had the opportunity to score a fourth and break the record in the 67th minute of Wednesday’s match. Unfortunately, he knocked on with the tryline at his mercy. He didn't get another chance.
Meyer said that Habana holds himself to a high standard and will be disappointed with that mistake. When asked about the incident after the game, the Bok winger said it was disappointing, but only in the sense that South Africa missed out on five points.
‘Fluffing an opportunity to score a try at any time is never ideal,’ he said. ‘If it was worth a lot more in terms of winning or losing a game, I would have been a lot more disappointed.
‘It’s humbling to be mentioned with Jonah but I don’t think I can ever be compared to him,’ Habana continued. ‘I said it in 2007 as well [when Habana scored eight tries in the tournament to match the record for a single tournament], Jonah changed the face of rugby. He scored his tries in two tournaments. I’m in my third. He became the first rugby global superstar.
‘While personal milestones are great, it always comes down to doing what’s best for the team and making a contribution. That to me is more satisfying than records.’
Photo: Chris Lee/Getty Images