JOHANNESBURG – World Cup-winning wing Bryan Habana said on Wednesday the Springboks would go into the 2019 season and the Rugby World Cup in Japan a confident side following a 2018 season that was “full of promise”.
And he added that the other title contenders would have taken notice of the Boks’ improvement under Rassie Erasmus last season, with their strong showings against the All Blacks – which included an away win in Wellington – among the highlights of the new Bok boss’ first season in charge.
“The Boks definitely showed a lot more promise in 2018, even if results-wise they still only won 50 percent of their games,” said Habana, a World Cup winner in 2007.
“The win in Wellington will hopefully give the side confidence leading into this season, and ahead of that first (World Cup pool) game against New Zealand.
“It’s a match that will decide the path of the teams; one will probably go on to play against Ireland, the other against Scotland in a quarter-final. And for me, Ireland are the number one side in the world.”
He added: “The Boks are the one team every other team in world rugby will hope doesn’t fire on all cylinders because, like we saw in Wellington last year, people know what that could potentially mean.
“Hopefully we see them at least get through to a semi-final.”
And, two-time World Cup champion from New Zealand, Dan Carter, said he was pleased the Boks had found their power again after “different 2016 and 2017 seasons”.
“It was only a matter of time before they got back to the level we know the Boks play at,” said Carter.
“We saw that last year, and every New Zealander would have been pleased to see them competing again.
“A lot of teams go through a bit of a rebuilding phase after World Cups, and I think that’s what happened to the Boks after 2015.
“But the fact they were more competitive last year is great for the rivalry, it’s great for international rugby, and it’s great going into the 2019 World Cup. We need South Africa to be strong.”
He added the loss suffered by the All Blacks in Wellington was a “wake-up call”.
“It was a learning curve for the team, maybe something that was needed,” said the former All Blacks No 10.
Both Habana and Carter also spoke about the proposed new World League, which World Rugby hopes to get off the ground in 2020.
The idea on the table was for the current Six Nations teams and the four Rugby Championship sides to do battle with two more teams, earlier mooted as the USA and Japan, in an 11-Test schedule each.
Criticism that the Pacific Island teams were left out of the picture angered many players and nations, and World Rugby are said to be relooking their model.
“It’s been interesting to see the players’ reaction to it,” said Habana. “World Rugby are looking to grow the game, so it’s going to be an interesting discussion.
“I think they definitely need to look how the tier two nations will be affected, what the impact will be on player welfare, and then there’s the travel issue.
“World Rugby have some massive decisions to make, but they must make sure they don’t lose a big part of the rugby community.”
Carter added: “The game is so demanding now, and player welfare should be first and foremost what they’re looking out for. There are more games, longer seasons... the welfare of the players should be top priority.”
* Habana and Carter were speaking at a function on Wednesday, where the former Bok was announced as a Mastercard ambassador, alongside Carter, for the 2019 World Cup.@jacq_west