Habana eyes Springboks' try-scoring record
September 5, 2011
Habana limbers up for the Springboks' opener during a training session in Wellington © Getty Images
Springboks speedster Bryan Habana has set his sights on finally eclipsing Joost van der Westhuizen as South Africa's most prolific try scorer.
Habana pulled level with the legendary scrum-half with his 38th Test try against Italy in June last year but has since drawn a blank in 10 successive international appearances. At the 2007 Rugby World Cup, he played in all seven games as South Africa bulldozed their way to glory and in doing so contributed eight tries to equal All Black Jonah Lomu's record haul for a single tournament. The 28-year-old is hoping a return to the World Cup stage will trigger a return to top form - starting with their high-profile Pool D opener against Wales on Sunday.
"I'd like to hope so," he said. "I thought it would have happened a while ago. If I do get chosen to play, I would love to make a positive contribution to the start of our campaign."
If his 10-Test drought and the Springboks' disappointing Tri-Nations campaign were not reason enough to be feeling the pressure as his side prepare to kick off the defence of their title, then there is also the weight of the nation.
"We had a send-off in South Africa where 65,000 people said goodbye to us," recalled Habana, one of 18 survivors from the 2007 squad. "When you get greeted by the President [Jacob Zuma] and he tells you to bring the cup back - he expects you to bring the cup back. The nation is saying, 'Good luck but don't come home empty-handed'."
It is against such a backdrop of expectancy that South Africa will encounter a Wales side not short on confidence following their impressive World Cup warm-up series last month. Although history heavily favours the Springboks - they have suffered a solitary defeat in 25 Tests against Wales since 1906 - the last three encounters were won by a combined margin of just 12 points.
And with Samoa and Fiji - familiar World Cup opponents for South Africa - also in the Springboks' pool, there will be little respite in the race for a quarter-final place. "Playing Wales is a great challenge for first up," said Habana. "The Welsh are one of the most passionate and fiery sides in world rugby, and they bring a good challenge to the table.
"Everything since the New Zealand game (in the Tri Nations) has been focused on Wales. They are a tough unit. And I am not sure why we always get drawn with the Pacific islanders in a World Cup, but it's a great challenge. They are great rugby-playing nations. In Marseille in 2007, at 20-20 (against quarter-final opponents Fiji), it actually felt like we were playing in Fiji. So the smaller teams always get quite a bit of support, especially in New Zealand."
What the World Cup can expect from South Africa has been widely chronicled - traditional power up front and a relentless kicking game built around their half-backs Morne Steyn and Fourie du Preez. It is a simple but often effective approach, and one that Habana admits is unlikely to deviate from a tried-and-tested routine.
"I definitely think we're going to play to our strengths, to what has worked for us," he added. "It's worked in the past, so we are not going to do anything drastically different to the last couple of years. I've been chasing a lot of kicks for a while now, so I don't think that is going to change. We play towards our strengths, and our strength has been a great kicking game."
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