By Al Dymock
WITH THE flash of a mischievous smile, Bryan Habana reclines. “There is no greater feeling than drinking a beer out of a trophy,” he says.
Habana is both open and philosophical about success. He is in a South London hotel, but you could be sitting at the bar in his house, looking at the shirts on the wall and the trophies on his mantel.
It is getting rarer to expect warmth and frankness from professional athletes, yet when Habana is scooting around the room offering you water or helping to clear up broken glass you get a feeling that this bloke may be worth listening to, that you and he could definitely set the world to rights.
It is not a bar, it is a conference suite, and he’s speaking as an ambassador for leading rugby brand Canterbury, official kit supplier to England and South Africa. As he sits inches away you find it hard not to laugh along as talk flits from the rise of Argentina to Jonah Lomu’s lack of tries against the Boks, the need for education and even the old night out line of ‘what would you rather fight…’.
Talking of his rugby in 2012, though, South Africa’s leading all-time try-scorer lays it out there: “Rewards are always nice and it is something you work towards, but Heyneke Meyer has a great saying, ‘You’re a winner a long time before you step on the field’.
“For me the rewards and the accolades are always great, but the one thing I have prided myself on throughout my career is being able to make a contribution to every team I’ve been involved in. For 2010 and 2011 just for the Springboks – I had some great times with the Stormers during those two years – I was disappointed with the contribution I was making.
“I was disappointed that I was making silly knock-on and handling errors that I have never done before in my career. I was disappointed that I was not able to contribute in a way to the success of the side.”
It must be noted that this is coming from a man who, in 2012 alone, has lifted the Currie Cup with Western Province, won the South African Rugby Player of the Year award and been nominated for the IRB Try of the Year after his split-second chip-and-chase score against the All Blacks.
You would think the 29-year-old winger would be devastated not to have been part of South Africa’s winning three-Test tour of the British Isles, but he actually finds the positive in a lengthy lay-off due to an ACL injury.
“I would probably be a bit more bleak if my injury was just from a breakdown of my body over the year,” Habana admits with a hint of a shrug. “But (damaging my knee) was a freak accident.
“Jean de Villiers said to me after the game, when we found out what it was, that he doesn’t put his head into rucks and try to steal ball for the pure fact that stuff like that happens to knees.
“I would rather have a medial (injury) than a cruciate or ACL. It keeps you out for six months. On the other side, it sort of gives you time to reflect on the year that’s been. I have not had the opportunity in eight or nine years now, where even after a good year or a bad year you have a two-month break to let your body heal itself and start up at the first of January again.
“Yes, I’m disappointed and would love to wear that Springbok jersey for the 86th time, but I’m not complaining about the rest.”
He does not hide from the fact that the modern game has evolved to a stage where the number of games pile up, much as the bodies do after a number of horrid collisions in games. Players are “at the mercy of the rugby schedule” and colleagues like Jannie du Plessis must play 35 games in a row. He can kick back for a while – but Habana still has much he would like to achieve and more trophies he would like to drink out of.