Pretoria - Springbok wing Bryan Habana believes captain Jean de Villiers does not receive enough credit for the way he leads the national side as they face the prospect of playing Samoa in Pretoria on Saturday without the skipper.
De Villiers was in doubt for the crucial final Test of the four-nation series due to an injury he picked up against Scotland in Nelspruit at the weekend, and his absence would see senior members like Habana take on more of the leadership responsibilities.
“He was unbelievable this weekend, getting an injury in that first 10 minutes and fighting through,” Habana said.
“He made some bold calls throughout that game and he led the team impeccably well.”
Habana said De Villiers’ leadership would be sorely missed if he was not cleared to play this week, but he was confident that the senior members of the team would make the step up to fill the void.
“Coming into the squad last year, when Heyneke Meyer started out, there was a pretty young group of players around and myself, Jean, Ruan Pienaar and Frans Steyn were the only ones that had more than 50 caps,” he said.
“The leadership responsibility definitely increased and it will be really sad to lose Jean because I don’t think he always gets the amount of credit he deserves.”
Habana also gave credit to coach Heyneke Meyer for the way he put faith in the senior members of the team, which he believed had helped grow the leadership corps.
“There will be a lot more opportunity for the rest of the senior group and the leadership group has been together for a long time now, if you look at guys like Bismarck du Plessis coming back, Ruan, Pierre Spies, myself and Adriaan Strauss,” Habana said.
“We are guys that have been lending and sharing ideas with the way the team is thinking and the coach has allowed us that opportunity to grow.
“You relish that opportunity and when you’ve played 85 Tests your leadership ability really has to come to the fore.”
Habana, who scored the only try for South Africa in their 13-5 victory over Samoa at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, believed the Islanders had changed significantly since that match.
“Looking back at 2011 it was probably one of our most physical games at the World Cup, but the Samoan team of 2011 and the one of 2013 are two totally different teams,” he said.
“They’ve improved massively over the last two years and they’ve showed in this series just how much they have improved in getting that first victory ever over Scotland in that first Test, and last week demoralising the Italians that were pretty hard spirited.”
He said the Samoans would be a tougher prospect on Saturday due to the improvements they had made over the last few years.
“The Samoans of 2011 was a tough game but the Test we are facing this weekend will be a lot tougher,” Habana said.
“Their players are a lot more skillful and their top level players are playing Super Rugby and European leagues and they've learnt a lot and grown a lot.”