South Africa’s hat-trick try hero Bryan Habana warned the Springboks are getting stronger with every game as he celebrated a 64-0 World Cup thrashing of the United States on Wednesday.
Habana’s second-half treble saw him equal Jonah Lomu’s record of 15 World Cup tries as the Springboks booked their quarter-final place.
The 2007 World Cup winner was on the field as the Springboks were beaten 34-32 by Japan in their opening Pool B match.
But he expressed pride at the way in which South Africa bounced back with wins over Samoa, Scotland and the United States, conceding just one try, to top Pool B.
“We took a bit of a tumble that first week against Japan, so the last three weeks have been important as to how we’ve responded,” said Habana.
“We’ve raised the intensity and physicality, week on week.”
The Springboks were only 14-0 up at half-time, thanks to centre Damien de Allende’s maiden international try and a penalty try off a scrum.
But the second half saw South Africa score eight tries – including Habana’s treble and more to Bismarck Du Plessis, Jesse Kriel, Lwazi Mvovo and two from Francois Louw – as they added 50 more points.
“The first half we couldn’t get going and made one or two errors, but the second-half performance was polished as I’ve been involved in with a Bok team,” said Habana, a veteran of 114 Tests.
“As nice as it is to score tries, we can be really proud of our defensive effort,” added Habana, who has helped French club Toulon win the last two European Cups.
“To allow only one try in three World Cup games was unbelievably exceptional.”
South Africa now face a quarter-final with the losers of Saturday’s Pool A clash between Australia and Wales and Habana said: “The hard work really starts now.”
Habana could have beaten Lomu’s record but, with 13 minutes left, botched what would have been his fourth try with a knock-on.
“Fluffing an opportunity to score a try at any time is never ideal,” said Habana.
“If it was worth a lot more in terms of winning or losing a game I would have been a lot more disappointed, but again equalling Jonah Lomu’s record is a truly humbling fact.
“The way he changed the game, the way he gave rugby back something that no-one ever thought was possible and the way he became a global superstar, the first real global superstar that the game as ever seen, is for me a massive privilege and I’m honoured to be able to call him a legend.”