Cape Town - Bryan Habana
will be saying farewell to Super Rugby and to Newlands as a Stormers player on Saturday, but he hopes to be back in South Africa soon wearing the green and gold jersey he is so fond of.
According to supersport.com's website, the decorated winger, the IRB World Player of the Year in 2007 after scoring the most tries in that year’s World Cup and helping South Africa to victory in the tournament, will be bringing an illustrious career in Super Rugby to a close when he lines up against his old team, the Bulls.
Habana played five seasons with the Bulls, winning two Super titles along the way, and is about to conclude his fourth season with the Stormers.
He will be contracted to French club Toulon after Saturday, and is set to fly out to France next Saturday night.
He is expecting to get straight into action as Toulon start their pre-season preparations with a friendly against Racing Metro on August 2.
But Habana, without wanting to put any pressure on Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, is working on being back in the country the following week to start preparations for the first Rugby Championship game against Argentina at the FNB Stadium in Nasrec on August 17.
That game is going to form part of a double header with Bafana Bafana to celebrate the life of former president Nelson Mandela, and there is no doubt the proudly South African Habana would love to be part of the occasion.
"Heyneke has been very honest with all of us by letting us know that he does have a responsibility to keep South African rugby strong," Habana said on Wednesday after being named in the team for the Bulls match.
"So there are no expectations, and like every other player who has opted to go overseas, I accept that my decision may make it harder for me to retain my spot as the first choice in my position.
"That was something that I reconciled myself to when I made the decision to go overseas.
"At the same time I am proudly South African and love playing for the Springboks, and it remains my focus to try and play international rugby in the jersey that I love wearing.
"That hasn’t changed, and I made sure during the negotiations with Toulon that I would still be available to play for the Boks.
"I am going to France to play in the warm-up game against Racing Metro, but I will be in no different a position to the one that the guys who will be playing Super Rugby playoff games over the next few weeks will be in.
"I will be putting my body on the line for my team but hoping that I will be playing for the Springboks after that.
"It’s up to the coach what he wants to do, but the way I see it if I produce top form and produce world class performances then I will be considered for selection and will make it very hard for me to be left out."
Habana said that as the time for his departure has neared, so the emotion has started to rise.
"I participated in my last Stormers training session at the HPC yesterday (Tuesday) and this morning (Wednesday) it was my last full session with a team that I have really grown to love playing for.
"So yes, there is emotion.
"When I made the decision it seemed so far away, but now it is upon me.
"Saturday will be my last game for the Stormers, and that is sad.
"But then Joe Pietersen
and Dewaldt Duvenage
(neither of whom are playing on Saturday and are also heading overseas, as is Andries Bekker
) have already played their last game for the Stormers.
"It is disappointing that I’m not going out in a knock-out game.
"In nine seasons I have only not been involved in the knock-out phase of the Super Rugby season twice – once with the Bulls and now once with the Stormers.
"I feel we had three good seasons at the Stormers, and this one was disappointing.
"It would have been nice to have a fairytale ending, and we were confident it was possible at the start of the season, but unfortunately it just hasn’t turned out that way.
"On Saturday we have a lot of pride to play for.
"We feel we have let the coaches and the fans down, and that remains our motivation.
"Hopefully we can end off with a win.”
Although he never saw any Super Rugby silverware, aside from the conference trophy that the Cape team won the past two years before surrendering it to the Bulls, Habana says he is leaving behind good memories.
"I think the top one was winning the Currie Cup final last year with Western Province," he said.
"We went into that game with a young team against a top Sharks side, and we were playing away.
"We’d also had to play our semi-final against the Lions away.
"No-one gave us a chance, so although I only played 12 minutes of that game, it was a great feeling to be part of that victory.
"I felt sorry for guys like Jean (de Villiers), Andries (Bekker) and Schalk (Burger) who are all experienced true-blue Stormers and WP players who weren’t able to be part of that occasion.
"It was nice to be part of the team that won the Cup after a break of 11 years.
"But there have also been special memories in Super Rugby.
"Even though we never won the trophy, it was an achievement to finish in the top two for three years in a row and get through to the semi-finals in all of those years.
"I’ve made special friends here and would like to think that I’ve had an influence and made a difference to some of the players that I have played with."
Habana also thanked the Stormers coaches, Allister Coetzee and Robbie Fleck, as well as former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers, for supporting him during the tough times that he has experienced at times in recent years.
"There were times when I really struggled and I was written off but Allister, Fleckie and Peter de Villiers stuck by me, and I am grateful for that. But I must also thank the people of Cape Town.
"This is an unbelievably passionate rugby city, and both myself and my wife have been made to feel really welcome here.
"This city has a lot going for it and while Pretoria was nice too and also had things going for it, I definitely think this is where I will settle when I am finished with Toulon three years from now.
"And make no mistake, when I am sitting next to Bakkies Botha watching the Stormers play the Bulls on television while having a braai, I will be cheering for the Stormers."