Bryan Habana says fans, players and everyone else involved in rugby “can never lose the belief” that the Springbok team can regain their former glory.
Habana, the record Bok try-scorer with 67 touchdowns, and just three behind Victor Matfield as the most-capped South African Test player with 124, took to Instagram on Tuesday to express his unhappiness with his own performances and that of the team in an utterly forgettable 2016 season.
The Boks set a new low of eight defeats in 12 Tests, the most in a calendar year, which has seen them drop down to sixth in the rankings and has put coach Allister Coetzee firmly in the spotlight as he tries to save his job.
Coetzee will have to explain to his bosses over the next week or so why the Boks find themselves in this situation as SA Rugby conducts a full review of the team and its own organisational structures, with a number of changes anticipated soon.
The coach’s fate is set to be decided at a Saru General Council meeting on December 9, as only that body can hire and fire coaches.
The 33-year-old Habana has actually been one of the few players who could hold their heads up high in a disastrous year for Bok rugby, even though he ended it with a sub-standard performance in the horror show in Florence when Italy won 20-18.
The former Bulls and Stormers stalwart, who plays for Toulon in France, may now not get an opportunity to break two records within reach – the most Bok caps mark, and the world Test try tally of 69, held by Japan’s Daisuke Ohata – if Coetzee or a new coach starts afresh with a new bunch of players in 2017, after he was left out of the match-23 for the 27-13 loss to Wales in Cardiff last week.
It was the first time that the Boks have lost all the Tests on their end-of-year tour since 2002. “The pain, disappointment and lows of what happened over the past three weeks and that has been happening over the past six months is by far the toughest and lowest I have ever experienced in my rugby career, and I’ve had many lows,” Habana said.
“To even begin to explain where it’s all gone wrong is immensely difficult as there are so many things across the board to dissect, and you cannot put it down to just one thing.
“Purely from a players’ perspective, our on-field performances, bar a few individuals at certain times, hasn’t been up to standard and we take full responsibility for that despite all the off-field issues.
“Personally, I honestly felt that I could make a positive influence and impact both on and off the field in 2016, and unfortunately I haven’t been able to do that, and I apologise for the part I played in the results of this year.”
Habana, who scored his last try against Italy and did most of the talking at a post-match huddle on the field, believes the way forward to reinvigorate the Boks is to have “open and honest discussions” with key roleplayers, administrators, politicians, coaches and players to start a proper process of rebuilding and implementing new structures in South African rugby as a whole.
“Whether or not I’m a part of this group going forward, or whether changes get made on an administrative, coaching or players’ level, we can never lose the belief that we can fix it,” he said.
“I fully understand the hurt, dissatisfaction and despair felt about where this current Springbok team is, and I’m also prepared to face all the criticism that comes my way in the part I’ve played.
“Like you all, I also want to see the Springboks be a force to be reckoned with and instil pride back into the jersey, and be that symbol of hope and unity that it has been on so many occasions for our country.”