Cape Town - One would think that when you are about to play in your 100th Test, you would know everything there is to know about rugby.
But Bryan Habana, who will join the Springbok century club - comprising Victor Matfield, John Smit and Percy Montgomery - when he runs out at Patersons Stadium in Perth on Saturday, still believes that he can become even better in the next few years.
“For any player to be successful, you’ve got to constantly see where you are as a player and constantly, with the game evolving as much as it is, to see what’s working and what isn’t.
“Ten or 15 years ago a wing was at the end of the backline to score the tries, but then you had the New Zealand wings like Jonah Lomu and Tana Umaga running inside balls and working off their wings, and Joe Roff running inside balls off Stephen Larkham all the time,” Habana said on Tuesday.
“Your all-round kicking game, in terms of your catching and aerial skills… is a lot more important. Your workrate is non-negotiable as a wing these days because if you are going to be stagnating in one position all the time, it’s not going to work for you.
“To evolve, you have to be willing to learn from your fellow players and coaches and people who know. I wouldn’t always say learn from the criticism, because you have to sometimes take the criticism from where it comes! But you have to be willing to learn, and if you believe you have arrived as a professional athlete, that’s when the downfall starts.”
The 31-year-old, who plays club rugby for French side Toulon, wants to at least reach his third World Cup, in England next year, and is adamant that he needs to continue playing at his opportunistic best if he is to make it to the showpiece event.
Habana, who holds the Springbok try-scoring record of 56 in 99 Tests, displayed his trademark predatory skills against Argentina in Salta over a week ago when he raced through to finish off Ruan Pienaar’s superb kick-through.
Habana, some way behind the most-capped Bok in Victor Matfield (113), says the Boks could still achieve great heights under coach Heyneke Meyer. Following two disappointing performances against Argentina, the South Africans will have to improve substantially if they want to topple the Wallabies.
“I’d like to be part of the World Cup next year, and playing a brand of rugby that sees me selected and fit to be part of the squad, as I believe this squad has the makings of something special. If nurtured correctly (and if) the young players combine well, the World Cup could be special.”
Since his debut against England in November 2004, Habana has claimed all the major accolades in rugby - he was voted the IRB Player of the Year in 2007, he is a three-time SA Rugby Player of the Year (most recently in 2012), and was the leading try-scorer in the Boks’ triumphant 2007 World Cup.
He became a father recently when his wife, Janine, gave birth to a baby boy, Timothy.
“My family and their support, and my wife over the last four or five years, where it’s been a pretty rocky road at times - it’s been tough - it’s been awesome to know that you can truly go home and spend time with your best friend,” Habana said.