Habana: 50 test tries for South Africa

24 June 2013

South Africa claimed the honours in the Castle Incoming Series on Saturday night after an impressive 56-23 victory over Samoa in the final at Loftus Versfeld. Scotland finished third after scraping a 30-29 win over Italy.

Before the Series began, coach Heynecke Meyer was surely hoping to see game by game progression from his charges and against Samoa it was clear that the players had begun to gel as a unit. They produced a good, at times excellent, all- round game to overpower a team that had beaten Scotland 27-17 and crushed Italy 39-10 in its two previous outings.

Encouragingly, decisive contributions came from national team veterans and rookies alike. From an individual standpoint, the highlight of the win over the Samoans was produced by Bryan Habana, who, with two tries, became the first Springbok to score 50 test tries.

Exciting

Citing some of the greats he had played with in his career, including Os du Randt, Percy Montgomery, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, John Smit, Fourie du Preez, Schalk Burger, Habana said it was exciting to have played with them and to now be part of a young team.

“It’s been an unbelievable ride,” he said after the game. “Hopefully I keep on improving, not only on the rugby field, but off it as well, and hopefully I continue contributing to the success of Springbok rugby.”

“It’s a great effort,” said Bok captain Jean de Villiers at the post-match press conference. “To score 50 in a career is great, to score 50 for your country is really special.

Teamwork

“But I think he will be the first to say, as well, that a lot of the hard work was done by the forwards and the other guys on the field, and sometimes he was just there at the end,” De Villiers said.

“But he’s a classy player. He’s a world class player. He’s been IRB World Player of the Year [in the past] and there always seems to be magic when he touches the ball. He’s a special guy and hopefully he can continue with that form.”

The two flanks, Francois Louw, who missed the previous test because it clashed with his marriage, and battering ram Willem Alberts, who was out with injury, were singled out by coach Meyer for praise.

“I thought Francois and Willem brought a lot of physicality to the game and Francois was brilliant in the loose. I knew he was going to play a great game.”

‘Physical’

“It was always going to be a physical game against Samoa, but I think the boys stepped up. It was a physical game from both sides and that’s what makes it exciting. The guys didn’t back away from the challenge and made an impact,” Louw told Jacaranda FM’s Trevor Cramer.

After a few errors at the start of the contest, Willie le Roux, one of the newcomers to international rugby, showed why he deserved to be wearing the green and gold with some exciting incisions into the backline, including setting up Bryan Habana for the opening try of the match.

With le Roux installed at number 15, one now recalls why former fullbacks Andre Joubert and Gysie Pienaar were such fan favourites; a running fullback, with an understanding of when to attack, adds a new dimension to a backline and it is something that the Springboks have missed in recent seasons.

Most obvious improvement

Le Roux’s contribution was the most obvious improvement for the Springboks and credit to him as a player with Griquas, traditionally not one of the country’s leading provincial teams, for making such an impact that his national team candidacy could not be ignored.

However, he was far from alone among the newcomers and they all made meaningful contributions along the way. JJ Engelbrecht, Trevor Nyakane, Siya Kolisi, Jan Serfontein, Piet van Zyl, Arno Botha and Jano Vermaak were given opportunities during the Series and all looked at home in the test arena.

Engelbrecht scored tries in each of the three tests, while Kolisi was named man of the match after coming on early for an injured Botha in the test against Scotland, and prop Nyakane rounded off the win over Samoa with a popular try at Loftus Versfeld, which was followed by a celebratory dance.

Dance

Nyakane elaborated: “The dance is something I always do with Free State with Raymond (Rhule), so when I scored the try Bryan was like ‘We have to do it, brother’ and I was like ‘okay’. He’s my senior. He’s been there before me. Why not? It was my first [test] try so I had to celebrate and I enjoyed it quite a lot.”

Having introduced so many players to the green and gold jersey, Meyer will no doubt be pleased with what he saw from them. The opposition was not as tough as that the team will face in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship, which begins in August, but they provided just the kind of stepping stone that the coach would have liked to order before the big southern hemisphere showdowns.

Before they return to international action, the players will complete the Super Rugby season, which resumes on 28 June and finishes on 3 August.

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