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03rd Sep 2015

“In a World Cup, you can’t look further than your next game” – Bryan Habana talks to JOE about the Rugby World Cup

Kevin Beirne

Bryan Habana has won everything a rugby player could hope to win.

At club level, he has Super Rugby titles from his time with the Blue Bulls and has won back-to-back European Cups with Toulon.

Internationally, he has been an integral part of the South African team for over a decade and scored a record-equalling eight tries as the Springboks won the 2007 World Cup.

Now, at 32, the former World Player of the Year tells JOE he is as hungry as ever for success as he gets ready to take the field in his third World Cup.


Speaking as an ambassador for the Mission EnduraCool Towel, Habana says that he fell in love with rugby, like many South Africans his age, during the 1995 World Cup which South Africa won as hosts.

“It had an absolutely massive effect on me. Before then I’d never really known what the game of rugby was all about,” he says.

“It was a pretty big watershed moment in my life for that fact that my dad took me out of school for the first time ever. We jumped in a car down to Cape Town and came to watch the opening game of the World Cup against Australia.

“To experience a live game of rugby, to experience what it meant to South Africa as a pretty new democratic nation to see the Sprinboks winning, it inspired me in a way in which I didn’t think was possible.”

For many, the 1995 World Cup was the beginning of the modern era of rugby. Having only been readmitted into international rugby in 1992, South Africa were featuring in the tournament for the first time. Not only that, but it was the final act of the amateur era, with the game opening up to professionalism just two months later.

But the tournament had far-reaching effects beyond the sport itself, with South Africa’s victory over pre-tournament favourites New Zealand in the final giving hope to a newly democratic nation. It also gave hope to a 13-year-old boy in the crowd that day.

“It inspired me in a way in which I didn’t think was possible… being able to witness Francois Pienaar and Nelson Mandela lift up the trophy,” Habana says.

Nine years later, Habana scored a try with his first touch of a ball in international rugby when he came on as a substitute as the Sprinboks lost to England in Twickenham.

It was the first of many. His 59 tries currently place him fourth on the all-time international try-scorers list. The three ahead of him – Daisuke Ohata (69), David Campese (64) and Shane Williams (60) – have all retired.

But things are not as good for South African rugby now as they were in 2007. They finished bottom of this year’s Rugby Championship after losing to Argentina for the first time in their history.

“We definitely didn’t achieve what we wanted to achieve at this Rugby Championship,” admits Habana. “Those first games against New Zealand and Australia could have been won.

“We know there are a lot of harsh lessons to be learnt from this Rugby Championship… We know we’ll need to be at our best in the coming weeks if we want to have a chance of winning this World Cup.”

Despite their current struggles, the draw has been kind to South Africa for the pool stages of the tournament. The Springboks will be expected to comfortably top a group featuring Scotland, Samoa, Japan and USA. But Habana is taking nothing for granted:

“Whether you’re playing the best team in the world or the 16th ranked team in the world, if you don’t pitch up when you reach the battle, you might find yourself wanting. All our focus and energy will be going onto Japan and then we’ll take it game by game after that. In a World Cup, you can’t look further than your next game.”

However, things get a little more difficult once they get out of the pool – with one of England, Wales or Australia likely waiting for them in the quarter-finals.

“England are on a steady upward curve and playing against England in England is always going to be a tough task. Having lost to Wales at the end of last year, we know how tough they are. And Australia, with winning the Rugby Championship this year, have shown that they can still be a force.”


Whatever the test, Habana knows that younger players will be looking to him for advice. His 110 international caps mean only current captain Victor Matfield (123) has lined up for the Springboks more times.

“In 2007 I was a 24-year-old youngster who had been on the international scene for a couple of years. Going into this World Cup, I am definitely a different person than I was back then.

“Having gone through my career, experiencing the highs and the low of professional sport, I’m definitely going into this World Cup with a lot more experience.”

“In terms of leadership, I will play a bigger role this year than I did back in 2007. With me being based in France now, it’s going to be pretty important that I’ve played in the UK and the northern hemisphere for a couple of end of year tours and I’ve been able to share that experience.”

Habana made the move to France two years ago, joining a Toulon side who had just won their first ever European Cup. In the two years since, the French side become the first team to ever win the European Cup three times in a row.

In this year’s semi-final against Leinster – a team who won three European Cups in the four years prior to Toulon’s first title – extra time was needed to separate the two teams.

With time running out and Toulon with a man in the sin bin, Leinster were pushing for the try that would give them the lead. Irish outhalf Ian Madigan tried to spread the ball wide, only to see Habana step in and intercept the pass, running half the length of the field for a try.

Toulon eventually won 25-20 and followed that up with a convincing 24-18 win over Clermont Auvergne in last May’s final in Twickenham.

And when Twickenham plays host to the World Cup final on October 31, Habana hopes he can leave the stadium with a winner’s medal for the second time this year. But for now, he’s still taking it one game at a time.

Mission Athlete Care ambassador, Bryan Habana, uses the Mission EnduraCool towel to keep cool during training and matches. To buy the towel please go to: