Florence – Flying wing Bryan Habana is ready to exorcise the “frustration” of historic defeat to England when he lines up for South Africa in their “biggest game of the year” against Italy on Saturday.
Toulon wing Habana’s injury during a record home defeat to the All Blacks in Durban meant he was forced to watch from the sidelines as the Springboks’ 10-year, 12-game winning streak over the English fell apart at Twickenham.
It was a “weird” feeling the 2007 IRB player of the year has experienced only twice in his long and storied career.
But, when placed alongside his desire to help Allister Coetzee’s men dig themselves out of the rut that has seen the ‘Boks win only one of their last six tests, there is no comparison.
Habana has replaced JP Pietersen on the wing for Saturday’s cruncher in Florence, where he will line up for a 124th ‘Boks appearance only three tries short of retired Japan wing Daisuke Ohata’s all-time record of 69 test tries.
“I’ve only sat in the coaches box twice before in my career (in 2004 and 2011) and it was a weird feeling. I always want to be on the field and for every player sitting on the sidelines, holding tackle bags is not easy for anyone,” Habana told media in Florence on Thursday.
“Sitting where I was at Twickenham there was a lot of frustration seeing how well we played for 30 minutes and then making three or four mistakes that England capitalised on.
“We are in a tough situation but there is no one that is going to get us out of it but ourselves.
“It’s been a good week of training, a positive week, but winning the test on Saturday will be about the performance we put in between the four lines.”
Habana has been named vice-captain behind skipper Adriaan Strauss in a move designed to “take responsibility away from other players”, said ‘Boks coach Allister Coetzee.
“Because a player doesn’t get a title of a VC or play 120 odd games for your country if you don’t understand what it takes,” added Coetzee.
“He understands what it takes. He’s a true professional, he helps with the calling, and hopefully he can aid with the game management this week.”
Habana said: “Hopefully my experience and what I bring in terms of leadership can give the guys around me more opportunity to play rugby.
“We are disappointed as a team and I am looking forward to not only instilling some pride but also giving the team some direction because I believe it has the potential to be one of the great Bok teams with the talent we have.”
Despite a crushing 68-10 loss to the All Blacks in Rome, morale remains high in the Italy camp, new Azzurri coach Conor O’Shea insisted last week.
Habana suggested past form — Italy have never beaten the ‘Boks in 12 previous meetings — will count for nothing.
“Any Test is tough, especially at the moment. I’ve been involved in games that people never expected to be tough and have ended up being really tough,” added Habana.
“Also, against the All Blacks last month we were 22-15 down with 20 minutes to go and ended up losing 57-15 so we are in no way underestimating Italy.
“I’ve played against Italy twice in Italy and not only do they get fired up before the game, they bring intensity in the game too.
“We understand this is the biggest game of our season, given the year we’ve had. We have to show improvement in all areas on Saturday.
“We have a lot of respect for them, especially with a guy like Brendan Venter giving them input.
“We have to play rugby for 80 minutes.”
An X Live News Aggregation Service