Bryan Habana calls time on a stellar career

JOHANNESBURG — Just over eight years ago, I was a freelance TV presenter for SABC Sport, working primarily on rugby. One of my jobs was to conduct post-match interviews, which was always tricky. The winners wanted to celebrate, the losers wanted to be left alone. But not Bryan Habana. I remember a Test match at Loftus when South Africa beat Wales. The captains came through dutifully for their interviews, along with the player of the match. As we were preparing to wrap up, Bryan stuck his head around the door of the interview room. “Still time to chat to me?” he inquired, “an I’ve brought a friend.” The great Welsh winger Shane Williams stuck his head around the door with an inquisitive grin. The two great players were up for a chat. Bryan understood that playing rugby was so much more than just the 80 minutes on the park. I appreciated the way he understood his responsibilities as an influential player. He was always accessible to fans and media alike. He never turned down an interview even when the Boks had lost a gallant fight at the death to the All Blacks. He never rubbed his victories in the faces of his losing opponents. He was an all-round good guy, as well as being one of the great Test try-scorers who ever played the game. – David O’Sullivan

From SA Rugby

SA Rugby President, Mr Mark Alexander, on Tuesday said record-breaking Springbok wing Bryan Habana, who announced his retirement from the game at the end of the European season, is “one of the greatest South African sportsmen of all time”.

The 34-year-old Habana, the second-most-capped Springbok of all time with 124 Test caps, announced that he will hang up his boots later this year.

Habana, a Rugby World Cup winner in 2007, made his Test debut against England at Twickenham in November 2004, when he scored the first of his 67 Test tries – the most ever by a Springbok.

He amassed 118 Vodacom Super Rugby caps and scored 56 tries at this level in the colours of the Vodacom Bulls and DHL Stormers. He also played four tournaments for the Springbok Sevens team in 2004 and 2016.

Apart from the Rugby World Cup, Habana also tasted success in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship (previously named the Tri-Nations), Vodacom Super Rugby and the Currie Cup.

He is the only player since rugby unity in 1992 who has won the prestigious SA Rugby Player of the Year Award three times – in 2005, 2007 and 2012. Habana was also named the World Rugby Player of the Year in 2007.

Provincially, before moving to Toulon in France in 2013, Habana played 21 times for the Xerox Golden Lions in 2003 and 2004, scoring 17 tries; 14 times for the Vodacom Blue Bulls between 2005 and 2009, scoring nine tries, and eight times for DHL Western Province from 2010 to 2012, scoring twice.

“We have been privileged to have witnessed the career of Bryan Habana, who will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the great legends of Springbok rugby,” said Mr Alexander.

“During a career that spanned more than a decade and a half, he stood out as one of the most professional players ever to don the Springbok jersey, and over the years Bryan has been central to many of the most memorable occasions in the era of professional rugby.

“We will never forget every time he delighted us by crossing the try-line or putting in yet another bone-crunching tackle, but those close to him will also remember the Bryan that was a true professional, always going about his task giving 100%.

“He was also a leader in all the teams he played for and set an example to younger players of what is needed to succeed at the top.

“But most of all, he was a proud South African who was a wonderful ambassador to our country wherever he went. When it came to using rugby as a tool for nation-building, Bryan was always in the front of the queue.

“As a player, Bryan has set the bar incredibly high for succeeding generations. He has left behind a legacy of discipline, leadership and professionalism. He and his family can be very proud of all that he has achieved.”

Career highlights:
  • Became the first South African to reach 50 Test tries when he scored twice against Samoa in June 2013.
  • Became the fourth Springbok to reach 100 Test caps against Australia in Perth in 2014, behind Percy Montgomery, John Smit and Victor Matfield.
  • Scored the most Vodacom Super Rugby tries by any South African.
  • Played 123 Tests on the wing and once at centre.
  • Other international matches: four tour matches for South Africa and three matches for the Barbarians.
  • Holds the record for the most career tries in the Castle Rugby Championship (21).
  • Honours: SA Rugby Player of the Year (2012, 2007 & 2005); Young Player of the Year (2004); World Rugby Player of the Year (2007); Vodacom Super Rugby Player of the Tournament (2005); SuperSport Try of the Year (2005, Vodacom Bulls vs Blues in Pretoria; 2007, Vodacom Bulls vs Cell C Sharks in the Final in Durban; and 2012, South Africa vs New Zealand in Dunedin).
  • Scored a record-equalling eight tries during RWC 2007.
  • Equalled Jonah Lomu’s record of 15 tries in all RWC games in 2015.
Statement from Bryan Habana:
South Africa’s Bryan Habana. Photo courtesy of Twitter @Springboks

The inevitable moment has come knocking on my door and I’ve welcomed it in for a drink.

It’s been more than a year of hoping, trying, pushing and willing to get back on the field for one last time, to taste the sweet victory or encounter that gut-wrenching despair. To hear the roar of the crowd or grab the pill out of the air. To make that last bone crunching tackle or score that last game winning try. But it’s unfortunately just not to be. I, like most, would have liked my career to have ended differently, but sometimes things don’t turn out quite the way we hope for.

So at the end of this season, it’s time to say goodbye and thank you to the game I so dearly love.

To try and sum up the past 16 years and how quickly they’ve flown by or even begin to describe how amazing the journey has been is impossible. I would though like to express my gratitude:

  • First and foremost, to God for blessing me with the talent to play this beautiful game.
  • To my wife Janine, Timothy and our newborn Gabriel, for your support, sacrifice and love to follow me to all corners of the earth so that I can pursue my dreams.
  • To my family and friends, far and wide, who wore their hearts on their sleeves as much as I did.
  • To the coaches, team-mates, medical and support staff in all the teams I was involved in.
  • To every opponent that made the battle tough and worthwhile.
  • To all my sponsors over the years who believed in me enough to support me on the journey.
  • To the fans, who make the game what it is.
  • To the critics, not to prove you wrong but so that I could prove to myself I could.
  • To the media, who take the game to households the world over.
  • To the lessons learnt, through the good times and the bad.
  • To the friendships made and experiences a plenty.

But most of all to Rugby, because for me it truly is a game made in heaven.

As a close friend once said: “memories are all we have.” And I’m immensely grateful for the memories I take with me into the next chapter.

With much respect