Bryan Habana acknowledges the fans at London's Olympic Stadium after winning the bronze medal match at the 2015 Rugby World Cup with the Springboks. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Bryan Habana acknowledges the fans at London's Olympic Stadium after winning the bronze medal match at the 2015 Rugby World Cup with the Springboks. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Bryan Habana kisses the trophy after winning the 2015 European Rugby Champions Cup final against ASM Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham Stadium. Photo: Reuters / Andrew Couldridge
Bryan Habana kisses the trophy after winning the 2015 European Rugby Champions Cup final against ASM Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham Stadium. Photo: Reuters / Andrew Couldridge
Bryan Habana scores a try for the Barbaarians against New Zealand at Twickenham in 2009. Photo: REUTERS/Kieran Doherty
Bryan Habana scores a try for the Barbaarians against New Zealand at Twickenham in 2009. Photo: REUTERS/Kieran Doherty
Habana celebrates with JP Pietersen (left) and Percy Montgomery (right)after beating England in the 2007 World Cup final in at the Stade de France Stadium in Saint-Denis. Photo:  Photo: REUTERS/Bernard Papon
Habana celebrates with JP Pietersen (left) and Percy Montgomery (right)after beating England in the 2007 World Cup final in at the Stade de France Stadium in Saint-Denis. Photo: Photo: REUTERS/Bernard Papon

JOHANNESBURG - There is little doubt that Bryan Habana is the most decorated rugby player in South African history, and that would then surely make him this country’s greatest player ever.

Habana will quit the game at the end of the current European season having literally done it all - he’s won trophies for every team he’s played for; his career has been one highlight after the next; his fierceness on the field made him the ultimate opponent, and his try-scoring ability ensured he will always be known as a try machine.

His out and out pace, his great speed out on the wing, was his biggest asset, striking fear into all who faced him. He was the deadly finisher every team dream of having, but he was more than that - he also read the game brilliantly, scoring many a try from working out the opposition and intercepting passes.

READ MORE: Bryan Habana one of SA’s greatest sportsmen, says Saru president Alexander

But more than all these things, Habana has always been the consummate professional on and off the field.

South Africa has produced some world class players over the years, highly respected men who have been labelled legends and greats - Danie Craven, Francois Pienaar, Os du Randt, Danie Gerber, Joost van der Westhuizen, Naas Botha, Frik du Preez, Schalk Burger, Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez - but perhaps Habana surpasses all of them.

Of course, comparing players from different eras is never a wise thing to do and one always has got to bear in mind how much the game has changed over the years, most especially in recent times in the professional era, but Bryan Gary Habana somehow ticks every box.

Whether it was for King Edward VII School, the Lions, the Bulls, Western Province and the Stormers, Toulon, the SA Under-21s, the SA Sevens team and the Springboks, he was a standout player and the ultimate team man.

So it’s my turn to say Thank You: . The inevitable moment has come knocking on my door and I’ve welcomed it in for a drink. . It’s been more than a year of hoping, trying, pushing and willing to get back on the field for one last time, to taste the sweet victory or encounter that gut-wrenching despair. To hear the roar of the crowd or grab the pill out of the air. To make that last bone crunching tackle or score that last game winning try. But it’s unfortunately just not to be. I, like most, would have liked my career to have ended differently, but sometimes things don’t turn out quite the way we hope for. . So at the end of this season, it’s time to say goodbye and thank you to the game I so dearly love. . To try and sum up the past 16 years and how quickly they’ve flown by or even begin to describe how amazing the journey has been is impossible. . I would though like to express my gratitude: . • First and foremost, to God for blessing me with the talent to play this beautiful game. • To my wife Janine, Timothy and our newborn Gabriel, for your support, sacrifice and love to follow me to all corners of the earth so that I can pursue my dreams. • To my family and friends, far and wide, who wore their hearts on their sleeves as much as I did. • To the coaches, team-mates, medical and support staff in all the teams I was involved in. • To every opponent that made the battle tough and worthwhile. • To all my sponsors over the years who believed in me enough to support me on the journey. • To the fans, who make the game what it is. • To the critics, not to prove you wrong but so that I could prove to myself I could. • To the media, who take the game to households the world over. • To the lessons learnt, through the good times and the bad. • To the friendships made and experiences a plenty. . But most of all to Rugby, because for me it truly is a game made in heaven. . As a close friend one said: “memories are all we have.” And I’m immensely grateful for the memories I take with me into the next chapter. . With much respect . BH11

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Initially a scrumhalf and outside centre, the now 34-year-old burst onto the scene for the Lions in 2003 and became a Bok a year later. But he really hit it big after moving to the Bulls in 2005 when he joined the likes of Matfield, Du Preez, Bakkies Botha, Morne Steyn and Danie Rossouw to dominate SA and southern hemisphere interprovincial rugby.

In all, Habana played 124 Tests, his last in 2016, and in total scored 67 tries, the most by a Springbok. He thrilled fans from Loftus to Newlands and all over the world, his highlights not doubt including the World Cup triumph with one of the best Bok sides of all time in France in 2007.

Habana is one of the greatest rugby players the world has seen.

French club Toulon, like all the teams before them, were happy to splash the cash to have him on their books, and they were all richly rewarded. Habana didn’t only score tries and help win trophies for his teams, he played a huge part in making those outfits and clubs the best in the world at certain stages.

Habana easily stands alongside the likes of Jonny Wilkinson, Dan Carter and Richie McCaw as the best in the modern game. Take in what he has accomplished and won and you’ll understand why he's right up there: He has scored the most Super Rugby tries by a South African; is a three-time SA Rugby Player of the Year (2012, 2007, 2005); was SA Young Player of the Year in 2004; was World Player of the Year in 2007, Super Rugby Player of the Tournament in 2005; and he scored a record-equalling eight tries during Rugby World Cup 2007.

Apart from the 2007 World Cup triumph, Habana also tasted success by winning the Rugby Championship (Tri-Nations), the Super Rugby competition and the Currie Cup. It’s been a fantastic career that leaves one asking: Was Bryan Habana perhaps the greatest rugby player this country has produced?

The Star

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