Habana still "available for Boks"
Bryan Habana will play his last match for the Stormers on Saturday before leaving for France, but hopes to continue playing for the Springboks.
South Africa's top try scorer will join European champions Toulon on a three-year deal starting next month but nonetheless remains “available for the Springboks” and hopes to be in coach Heyeneke Meyer's Rugby Championship squad.
“Heyneke has been very honest with all of us by letting us know that he does have a responsibility to keep South African rugby strong,” said the winger.
“So there are no expectations, and like every other player who has opted to go overseas, I accept that my decision may make it harder for me to retain my spot as the first choice in my position. That was something that I reconciled myself to when I made the decision to go overseas.
“But at the same time I am proudly South African and love playing for the Springboks, and it remains my focus to try and play international rugby in the jersey that I love wearing. That hasn’t changed, and I made sure during the negotiations with Toulon that I would still be available to play for the Boks.
“I am going to France to play in the warm-up game against Racing Metro, but I will be in no different a position to the one that the guys who will be playing Super Rugby play-off games over the next few weeks will be in. I will be putting my body on the line for my team but hoping that I will be playing for the Springboks after that.
“It’s up to the coach what he wants to do, but the way I see it if I produce top form and produce world class performances then I will be considered for selection and will make it very hard for me to be left out,” he declared confidently.
Habana admitted there will be “a lot of emotion” in the confrontation against his former side, the Bulls, at Newlands this weekend and although the Stormers have been eliminated from the race for the play-offs, they will “have to restore some pride"
"We’ve let ourselves down, our coaches down in the last seven months. And the fans and supporters too," said Habana.
"After three very good years when we were in the knock-out stages, it’s disappointing not doing so in the last season. Everyone expected a fairytale ending. Unfortunately it’s not going to happen, but Saturday we have an opportunity to play not only for each other but also for the jersey,” said a motivated Habana.
And although he claims that “it’s not about playing for the guys that are playing their last games, it’s about playing for each other and the jersey,” emotion could be heard in his voice.
“I participated in my last Stormers training session at the HPC [Tuesday] and [Wednesday] was my last full session with a team that I have really grown to love playing for. So yes, there is emotion. When I made the decision it seemed so far away, but now it is upon me. Saturday will be my last game for the Stormers, and that is sad,” declared Habana who will play his 57th game for the Stormers on Saturday.
But the 2007 World Player of the Year will keep some good memories of Cape Town.
”I think the top one was winning the Currie Cup Final last year with Western Province,” he shared.
“We went into that game with a young team against a top Sharks side, and we were playing away. We’d also had to play our semi-final against the Lions away. No one gave us a chance, so although I only played 12 minutes of that game, it was a great feeling to be part of that victory.”
“I felt sorry for guys like Jean (de Villiers), Andries (Bekker) and Schalk (Burger) who are all experienced true-blue Stormers and WP players who weren’t able to be part of that occasion. It was nice to be part of the team that won the Cup after a break of 11 years.
“But there have also been special memories in Super Rugby. Even though we never won the trophy, it was an achievement to finish in the top two for three years in a row and get through to the semi-finals in all of those years. I’ve made special friends here and would like to think that I’ve had an influence and made a difference to some of the players that I have played with,” told Habana.
The 30-year-old winger is very grateful for the support he received when he disappointed.
“There were times when I really struggled and I was written off but Allister (Coetzee), Fleckie (Robbie Fleck) and Peter de Villiers stuck by me, and I am grateful for that. But I must also thank the people of Cape Town. This is an unbelievably passionate rugby city, and both my wife and myself have been made to feel really welcome here,” said the winger.
Habana expects the same passion in Toulon and is excited at the idea of playing with world-class players.
“I have seen a couple of photos of the team’s rugby shop and my photo was on the wall. I’m not sure I’ll get much peace,” he laughed.
“I’m looking forward to play with a team that has many international rugby stars. I enjoy going to a club that wants success.”
But, for now, he doesn’t want to think too far ahead.
“I have a warm-up game on the 2nd of August against Racing-Metro, but for now all my energy and all my focus is contributing for Saturday’s game.
“I definitely think this is where I will settle when I am finished with Toulon three years from now. And make no mistake, when I am sitting next to Bakkies Botha watching the Stormers play the Bulls on television while having a braai, I will be cheering for the Stormers.”