I had the privilege of captaining Bryan Habana at school for a while back in the days when I thought I had a career in rugby and he was then about the size of his left thigh today, so he didn’t!
I remember watching him from year to year and at some point he started putting in some serious work, bulked up over the off seasons, grew stronger, faster and really started to develop from a sneaky tiny scrumhalf to a talented, smart and agile member of the backline!
He started to make provincial youth teams and around about the same time people started saying it was because of his race, because of his father’s influence, because of a million different things other than his talent. As if he had been training for his future stardom he took this all very much in his stride, put his head down and carried on developing.
I followed his career with keen interest for obvious reasons but it never really hit me what a global superstar he had become until the 2007 World Cup. While stumbling blind drunk back to my hotel I got lost and managed to find someone to ask for directions. Once I had shown him the hotel’s name and he had pointed in the general direction he asked “Afrique du Sud?”, in my very limited French vocab I responded positively to which he burst into the boradest smile and screamed “HABANA! WOW!” that was the sum total of his English vocab. Through a haze of red wine it made me vicariously proud to have in some capacity known this kid from KES who had made such a positive impact on so many people around the world!
Today he is a household name, he is a magician on the field, he is the leading Springbok try scorer of all time, he is the highest capped Springbok of all time and he has just won his third SA Rugby Player of the year. There is certainly a case for him to be one of the all time Springbok greats.
A far cry from the young man who was accused of getting ahead because of his race.
I could not think of a more worthy representative for South African rugby. He is humble, joyful and thankful for what he has achieved and what he has got. He comes from a good close family who has and continues to support him and he without doubt deserves everything he has achieved!
Congratulations on yet another accolade Habs! You continue to make us all proud!