South African great Bryan Habana says he has never experienced such highs and lows like the Springboks’ rollercoaster start to the World Cup.
The 32-year-old wing, one of the best finishers of his generation, says he is proud of the way South Africa recovered from the shock defeat by Japan and losing skipper Jean de Villiers in two games.
Japan’s 34-32 win in their Pool B opener was the most stunning of all upsets and led to intense criticism of the Springboks back in South Africa, one of rugby union’s traditional superpowers.
But South Africa bounced back with a 46-6 win over Samoa and last weekend’s 34-16 defeat of Scotland. That leaves them on course for a quarter-final place heading into their concluding group match against the United States at London’s Olympic Stadium on Wednesday.
Victory over Samoa, however, came at the cost of de Villiers suffering a jaw injury that ended the centre’s international career.
Habana, who made his Test debut as a replacement for de Villiers against England at Twickenham in 2004, said: “The highs and lows of the last two weeks have probably been the most vast and intense that I have ever experienced in my professional career.
“When you come into a tournament like a World Cup and you face a team like Japan first up, and you go through what we went through in terms of the loss and then the criticism that followed, to then bounce back the following week against Samoa, to see the response of the players when Jean had to leave was something really special.”
Habana, the leading tournament try scorer when South Africa won the 2007 World Cup with eight in seven matches, said he had not given up hope of lifting the trophy again despite the morale-sapping loss to Japan.
That would be a first as every country to win the World Cup got to the final unbeaten.
“We always have dreams and goals of achieving success at this World Cup. Japan was a hundred times more disappointing for us than it was for anyone outside this group.”
Habana, whose brilliant tally of 61 tries in 113 Tests leaves him behind only Japan’s Daisuke Ohata (69) and Australia’s David Campese (64) on the all-time list of leading international try-scorers, has still yet to decide if he will play for South Africa beyond the World Cup.
“A lot of people say you know when the end is near, to be honest I don’t think it’s quite there yet for me,” explained Habana.
Habana’s two tries in three matches this tournament have left him just three shy of equalling New Zealand star Jonah Lomu’s overall record of 15 tries in World Cup matches.