The Ultimate Springbok World Cup Final XV: No betting against Bryan Habana
AS part of The Glory of '95 series, three of IOL Sport's rugby writers decided to pick their ultimate Springbok World Cup Final XV. Today we look at left wing.
Candidates: Chester Williams (1995), Bryan Habana (2007), Makazole Mapimpi (2019)
The Springboks have had some greats in the No 11 jersey at World Cups, beginning of course with Chester Williams who, having taken over from suspended Pieter Hendricks in ‘95, scored four tries in a quarter-final win over Samoa.
In 2003, Thinus Delport was in the position in a Bok team that scaled no great heights; and then for consecutive World Cups —2007, 2011 and 2015 — Bryan Habana owned the jersey. In the 2007, event he scored eight tries, equalling the tournament record set by Jonah Lomu in 1999. Because of Haban’s exploits in helping the Boks win that World Cup, he was named IRB player of the year for 2007.
Habana would finish his Bok career with a staggering 67 tries from 124 Tests. He is by some margin South Africa’s top try scorer having gone past previous record holder Joost van der Westhuizen (38 in 89 Tests).
At last year’s World Cup in Japan, we had the pleasure of watching the magnificent Makazole Mapimpi score the Boks’ first try in a World Cup final. He had a very good World Cup, and thus far he already has an incredible 14 tries in 14 Tests.
At age 27, Mapimpi has at least another World Cup in him, and he doubt will continue to shine, but really there can be only one winner in the Bok No 11 stakes...
My choice for Bok No 11 jersey: Bryan Habana.
Jacques van der Westhuyzen
All three men played huge parts in the Boks winning the Webb Ellis Cup and will go down in history as heroes of the national rugby team.
Chester Williams, who sadly passed away late last year, was outstanding when he came into the Bok squad at the knockout stages in 1995 (replacing the banned Pieter Hendricks, though he was the first choice before injury ruled him out), scored four tries against Western Samoa in the quarters, while Makazole Mapimpi made the No 11 jersey his own with a stunning World Cup campaign in Japan, which saw him become South Africa’s first try-scorer in a final. And, who’ll ever forget that try, when he received a cool pass from team-mate Lukhanyo Am on his inside.
For me though, there can be only one “winner” here, Bryan Habana.
The former Lions, Bulls and Stormers wing is probably one of this country’s greatest players and certainly the best the country has produced in the No 11 jersey.
At the 2007 World Cup, Habana was the tournament’s top try-scorer with eight, including getting two in the semi-final against Argentina. He was a sensation at the tournament and was talked about as the game best finisher.
Habana, who started his career in the centres, became a real predator out wide, regularly intercepting passes and racing down the touchline to score, but he also had great strength and often busted his way through tacklers to score. Safe under the high ball and solid defensively, the left winger’s name was one of the first on the team sheet in the 13 years he played for the Boks (between 2004 and 2016).
Jacques’ choice: Bryan Habana
Chester Williams may have been the darling of the 1995 tournament, but there was only one real choice at left wing: Bryan Habana.
The former Bulls and Stormers star played in 2007, 2011 and 2015, and became a joint record-holder with Jonah Lomu for most tries in Rugby World Cup history with 15, with also equalling Lomu’s tournament record with eight in 2007 – which was later matched by Julian Savea in 2015.
Lomu, though, grabbed his 15 in just two events, 1995 and 1999.
Habana made an immediate impact in his first RWC match, dotting down four times in a 59-7 win over Samoa. What made him stand out was his electric pace, and he left the Samoan defence for dead on a number of occasions.
His dives over the line became a trademark, but one of his underrated skills was his chip-and-chase, which saw him score a superb solo try against Argentina in the 2007 semi-final, while he was a tireless and courageous defender too.
He enjoyed an unforgettable campaign in France, except for the one moment he lost his concentration, when he was blitzed by USA wing Takudzwa Ngwenya in Montpellier.
The Zimbabwean-born speedster received the ball near the halfway line, and with Habana giving him the outside, Ngwenya – with a shake of the hips – turned his more illustrious opponent inside-out before speeding away down the touchline for a memorable five-pointer.
But the South African star was chosen as the 2007 Player of the Year, and went on to enjoy a phenomenal career, scoring 67 tries in 124 Tests.
Habana got just two more in the 2011 edition in New Zealand, against Namibia and Samoa respectively, but had a better return in 2015 to join Lomu in the history books.
Having scored against Samoa and Scotland, he reached the 15 mark in style with a hat trick against the United States at the London Olympic Stadium.
Perhaps the one World Cup record Habana would’ve liked – but missed out on – was to become the first Springbok try-scorer in a final, which Makazole Mapimpi achieved in 2019.
Ashfak's choice: Bryan Habana