Bryan Habana (Gallo)
London – Still powered by an insatiable appetite for rugby at the highest level, Bryan Habana has arguably hinted here that he may seek to extend his distinguished Springbok career beyond RWC 2015.
The 32-year-old, 2007 tournament-winning wing speedster was in a talkative, ebullient mood when he attended a media briefing on Monday evening ... and did not hedge his bets too much when asked by Sport24 whether the sharpness and drive that has characterised his own World Cup so far might lead to an extension to his currently almost dozen-year Test career.
Reading between the lines, Habana is not done with international rugby just yet, nor is it as though a handful of younger bucks are genuinely breaking down the door yet to nudge him out of his No 11 (or occasionally 14) national jersey.
His predatory qualities and general industry have not diminished, even if his legs may not be quite as nippy as they were in the past, and his awareness of situations around him probably only gets better and better with the very benefit of burgeoning experience.
If the way is cleared for him to stay in green and gold after this World Cup – being a veteran based in faraway France these days, he admits there are no guarantees – he will become a massive challenger to Victor Matfield’s status as the most-capped Bok of all time.
At 38, this is definitely a swansong Test-level tournament for the big second-row athlete, and given not only his hamstring niggles but the storming form of young Lood de Jager, Matfield may not add too appreciably to his present 125 appearances during what may be left of RWC 2015 for the Boks.
Habana is breathing down his neck even as things stand with his personal 113 caps, set to become 114 as he starts against the USA at the Olympic Stadium on Wednesday.
“I think there are a couple of grey hairs that I didn’t have in 2007, and I do feel that bit older,” Habana said with a twinkle in his eye when Sport24 put it to him that his form in recent weeks hardly suggested the end might be very near for his Test-arena participation.
“I think it’s quite difficult to replicate 2007 to where we are now. The scenarios are very different; I wasn’t playing abroad then, I hadn’t had the highs and lows I’ve experienced over the eight (subsequent) years.
“As a player, I’ve certainly experienced so much more, and I am definitely a more mature player than I was back in 2007.
“In terms of where I feel I am in an on-field sense ... I’ve always wanted to be a player wishing to continue improving. Until the day I hang up my boots, I don’t believe I will ever be a finished product.
“I said before this tournament I wouldn’t make a call until afterwards about where I think my international career can go and I’m still in that boat.
“It’s been an unbelievable journey and I’m not too sure where the road will lead, post-World Cup ... whether the coach (Heyneke Meyer) will get his opportunity to continue his tenure, whether there might be a new one, so it would probably be stupid to make any decisions at this point.
“Above all that, all the concentration and focus will be going into this tournament anyway.”
But Habana did emphasise that he was still “feeling good” about his game.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in a championship side at Toulon for the past two seasons; that has certainly kept the spirit going. 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.
“It will always be a massive honour and privilege to wear that green and gold jersey, to pull it over your head and run out with a band of 22 brothers on a Saturday ... or a Wednesday afternoon!
“I will never, ever take that for granted and hopefully I can continue doing that for a little while longer.”
Does that sound like an established legend winding down his Bok career imminently? You be the judge.
But with a couple of other members of the trumpeted Springbok “leadership group” sadly now departed from the scene (Jean de Villiers) or confirmed as very close to doing so (Matfield), why wouldn’t you wish Bryan Gary Habana to keep pitching up and adding his widespread value to the cause for a year or two more?
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing. Rob is attending the Bok pool phase of RWC 2015 to provide news and analysis for Sport24 readers.