The Life of Bryan

The flying wing, who has been capped 123 by the Springboks, opened up a couple of years ago about rugby – and life off the field. Here we republish the interview.

Back in 2007 Bryan Habana raced against the world's fastest animal for charity, writes GARY LEMKE.

Never mind that he was given a 30m start by the cheetah who was chasing a leg of lamb being pulled by a rope or that the 'race' was declared a generous dead-heat. In 2013, the flying Springbok winger, was given a slightly less daunting challenge. He raced against an A380 British Airways jumbo – and this time there was no disputing who the quickest from a standing start.

These days the 33-year-old is in a decidedly less frenzied environment. He calls Cape Town and Toulon home for eight months and four months of the year, respectively. Life in Cape Town and life on the French Riveira. Two of the best places on the planet. 'Actually, Toulon is not a big city but it is the best place when it comes to weather,”

Habana, who is now into his second season of a three-year contract with the French rugby club, says. 'There's a relaxed lifestyle here, but I haven't fully explored it as yet.

‘The language is a barrier and I haven't had the opportunity to have extended time to settle. As you know, domestic help is easier to come by in South Africa than it is here, but we have got a domestic helper. The problem was that she couldn't speak a word of English and my French is, well, it's an issue, but she is now taking English lessons.

‘Things are totally different here, but fortunately I am involved in a rugby team environment, where there are some 20-25 guys coming together at a time, so it's easier than it is for our wives. It's probably a little harder on Janine than it is for me. Having said that, just down the road from where I am are two other Springboks, Bakkies [Botha] and Juan {Smith]. Juan has a butchery in South Africa and he has opened one here as well – with Bakkies no less. The two of them are bringing a South African 'flavour' to the French Riveira. Boerewors, droe wors and biltong – what a treat!’

Habana is a legend, the fourth Springbok to reach 100 Test caps after Percy Montgomery, John Smith and Victor Matfield and he has also now been joined by captain Jean de Villiers. All of them are World Cup winners from 2007, where they won the trophy against England in Paris. Habana's CV extends for several pages, but to put it in a nutshell he is the most prolific Springbok try-scorer and in 2007 was named IRB Player of the Year.

However, he is also finding that his life has been turned upside down since the birth of the couple's first child. Back on June, Habana took to twitter to tell the world. ‘So I got the best Father’s Day gift ever yesterday… Welcome to the world Timothy Jacob Habana #ourgift- fromabove’. When I spoke to the record-breaking Springbok he was still in a state of shock and awe.

‘Fatherhood is an unbelievable miracle. I am not the type of person that you would see shedding a tear, but when Timmy came into this world and now when he screams it is pretty emotional. The last 10 years have been incredibly busy, challenging and rewarding but these past four months – actually he is now 17 weeks – have been the most intense and overwhelming of my life.

‘It changes your perspective on life and anyone who hasn't had a child will try to relate but in truth they can't. It's a unique thing and you find yourself planning for the future, wanting him to grow up and be something. I love children, but all the advice and assistance can't prepare you for the moment. Luckily myself and Janine had a solid foundation before Timmy came along. We were married five years and love each other dearly. I'm a bit of a procrastinator and can be rough around the edges, but when the little guy smiles or screams, well, I just melt like butter under a hot sun.’

The Habana's Cape Town northern suburbs household used to consist of the couple and two chow chow dogs. ‘They were our substitute children, but now Timmy is a huge part of our life, But the dogs are with us – we brought them to Toulon so things are as normal as can be expected.

‘Initially we toyed with calling our new-born Bryan junior, but decided against that and went with Timothy Jacob. He's unique and has his own path to lead, and we'll be there every step of the way.’

Habana and his son were thrust into the public spotlight when he carried Timothy onto the field at Newlands ahead of the Rugby Championship Test against Australia and he held his son as the players belted out the national anthem. ‘I am eternally grateful to SA Rugby for honouring me in this way. I reached my 100 Test milestone in

Australia and this was my 102nd Test and it was incredibly special. Being there, holding your boy on an occasion like that … hopefully in 10, 12 , 18 years time he will look back at the footage and he will see what a privilege and an honour it was.’

Habana freely admits that he has been taken out of his comfort zone in France. ‘When we moved here we brought across little home comforts, South African products that we knew we'd miss. Tomato sauce, chutney, spices, all those things. Janine is good in the kitchen, but I have a tendency to burn water. Can I cook at all? Not unless you call braaing a type of cooking! I'm a typical South African boykie, I love my braais and the outdoors.

‘But the lifestyle and things we take for granted aren't here. Back home one gets used to popping down to the local Woolies or similar, and the convenience of 'readymade' food is there. The vegetables have been washed and cut and packaged, but here in Toulon we don't have that. We have a great produce market and have to learn to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from the market and then do the rest of the preparation at home. As I said, I'm not the best in the kitchen, but Janine is a great help.'

Like it has been for De Villiers, having gone through the hundred Test caps for the Springboks has made Habana think about the future. He has had a phenomenal rugby career and while it is by no means over, in reality he is not thinking too far ahead. ‘I’ve had a decade of rugby at the highest level and it takes an incredible toll on one's body.

‘I was injured for four or five months after I came to Toulon and not being able to contribute to the club was not a nice feeling. So, I'll take things as they come.

‘Hopefully I will still be considered good enough to be selected for the Springboks and there are some good youngsters coming through, so if I am selected it must be on form and that I'm the best player for the jersey.’

Habana is enjoying the relative anonymity that he's allowed on the French Riveira and at the same time enjoy growing as a family, with Timothy being the centre of attention. ‘Every day is like a new event. We spend a lot of time together and whereas South Africa gets busy [in terms of the trappings of a celebrity stats] here we can spend these special moments together as a family and grow.’

Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix

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Gary Lemke