Vultures circle over Habana
Pretoria – Will Bryan Habana be back to his best on his favourite hunting ground against one of his regular victims on Saturday?
Put differently: Can the most experienced wing in the history of Springbok rugby become the lone record-holder of 39 Test tries for South Africa and also deliver the kind of performance that can chase away the vultures circling over him?
It would have been unheard of a season or so ago to talk about Habana’s possible omission, but this week the general feeling on the blogs, websites and among experts has been that the 27-year-old should be axed and that Gio Aplon should play ahead of him.
Habana’s strike rate with tries is not what it should be anymore and the past week against the All Blacks his rush defence cost the Boks a try against the All Blacks.
There are now questions about his genuine value and contribution to the team. If Habana no longer scores tries, what is he doing? The lack of tries shines the spotlight on the defensive lapses.
Former Springbok wing Pieter Hendriks believes Habana’s confidence is gone as a result of his defensive style of rushing inside.
“He will still beat any opponent in a one-on-one situation, but when last did he get such an opportunity,” asked Hendriks.
“I think the fact that he is caught in no man’s land so often on defence is undermining his confidence. In the beginning he was excellent at shooting up and intercepting balls, but opponents have done their homework and it’s now working against him.”
His advice is simple.
“Forget about that technique. Work hard at staying on your opponent’s inside and take your opportunities in normal game situations. His team-mates should also do more to get Bryan in space. He remains one of the deadliest finishers in world rugby,” said Hendriks.
The fact that Habana is scoring less tries also means that the pressure is increasing.
He scored 30 tries in the first half of his Test career – 12 times in 2005 and 13 times in 2007. Since then the tries have been less frequent.
In 2008 he scored only twice, in 2009 four times and this year he has scored two - a try in each of the games against Italy in Witbank and East London respectively.
His strike-rate against the Wallabies, however, is excellent and he has scored five tries in 11 games against them.
Add to that that he scored an excellent try on the same field in the second Test against the British and Irish Lions and it’s clear that Habana is a player for the big occasion at Loftus Versfeld.
Habana is playing in his 65th Test and is used to pressure, but this time it’s different because there are calls for his head.
Habana has scored tries against the following teams (number of games in parentheses):
Argentina 2 (3), Australia 5 (11), British and Irish Lions 1 (3), England: 6 (8), Fiji 0 (1), France 4 (6), Ireland 1 (2), Italy 3 (4), New Zealand 3 (14), Samoa 4 (1), Scotland 3 (4), Tonga 0 (1), Uruguay: 2 (1), USA 2 (1), Wales 2 (5).