Bryan Habana and the other rugby speed stars

Matt Jones 24/04/2018
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Bryan Habana, one of the rugby world’s greatest ever wingers is to retire at the end of the season after being unable to force his way back into the Toulon team.

The iconic South African underwent surgery to repair a long-standing knee injury last year but has found his path back into the starting XV blocked by the likes of Chris Ashton and Josua Tuisova.

The 34-year-old, a Rugby World Cup winner in 2007 who was also named the world’s best player in the same year, will retire as the Springboks‘ leading try-scorer with 67 and three short of Victor Matfield’s record of 127 for caps won by a South African.

He will also go down as one of the fastest men to ever play the game. Here we look at how he compared to other speed merchants to grace the game.

1 CARLIN ISLES (USA), 100m time – 10.13 seconds

Unsurprisingly, it is America’s sevens speedster who tops the world’s fastest rugby player list, unofficially. Isles was a former track athlete turned rugby player, so it’s inevitable that he would have an impressive 100m time.

10.13 is the time the 28-year old produced, making him the fastest man in a field of lightening athletes.

Originally pursued a path into the NFL with the Detroit Lions, signing on to the team’s practice squad in December 2013. During a workout he ran a 40-yard dash time of 4.22 seconds, the fastest time recorded that year. In February 2014, however, he left the Lions to take up a contract with the Glasgow Warriors.

Isles

2 TONDERAI CHAVANGA (South Africa), 100m time – 10.27s

The Zimbabwean-born speed demon exploded onto the scene when he scored six tries on his debut for the Springboks against Uruguay in 2005, aged just 21, in a mammoth 134-3 win in East London.

Chavanga may have not had the physical bulk to match some players, which is maybe the reason why he only won four caps, but he could leave any other winger in his wake. He was the fastest rugby player in the world until Isles burst onto the scene.

Now retired, the 34-year-old played mainly in South Africa but did enjoy a two-year stint with Newport Gwent Dragons in Wales.

CHAVANGA

3 LWAZI MVOVO (South Africa), 100m time – 10.32s

After starring for the Sharks in Super Rugby, where he played almost nearly his entire career, made his South Africa debut in 2010 against Scotland at Murrayfield.

Bagged his first international try against England, at Twickenham, later on that autumn tour and scored six tries in 17 total outings for the Springboks in a sporadic six-year Test career. The 31-year-old last played for Japan’s Canon Eagles.

Mvovo

4 RUPENI CAUCAUNIBUCA (Fiji), 100m time – 10.4s

A controversial character whose career was plagued by disciplinary and time-keeping issues, yet there could be no doubting the pace that the “Bua Bullet” possessed. While his career may have had its ups and downs, one thing that remained constant was the Fijian flyer’s undisputed speed.

The big winger, who later switched to centre, had a deceiving turn of pace and incredible handling and side-stepping skills to match.

Played for the Blues in Super Rugby and in the Top 14 with Agen and Toulouse, he won Commonwealth Games silver with his nation in 2002, and scored nine tries in seven Tests for Fiji.

CAUCAUNIBUCA

5 BRYAN HABANA (South Africa), 100m time – 10.4s

Habana made his Springbok debut in 2005, aged 21, on one of the grandest stages of all, at Twickenham, and would set the tone for an incredible career by scoring a try with his first touch of the ball in a 32-16 defeat to England.

Has gone on to become a prolific try scorer, showing blistering pace for the Springboks, Bulls, Stormers and Toulon.

His eight tries at the 2007 Rugby World Cup equaled the single-tournament record set by Jonah Lomu in 1999. During the 2015 tournament he equaled Lomu’s career record of 15 tries in Rugby World Cups, and also moved into joint second place among all time test try scorers. Has since moved up to second place with 67 tries, behind only Daisuke Ohata of Japan.

Habana 1

6 TAKUDZWA NGWENYA (USA), 100m time – 10.5s

The second player on the list born in Zimbabwe, Ngwenya sprinted into the limelight with a scintillating try in the 2007 Rugby World Cup for his adopted nation of the United States, scoring 13 tries in 36 caps.

Was offered a trial at Saracens by now England coach Eddie Jones, but chose instead to sign for French side Biarritz in the Top 14, going on to play for them for seven years.

At the Rugby World Cup in France in 2007, used his sheer pace to outstrip Habana in the pool match and cross the whitewash between the Springboks and the US.

NGWENYA

7 PERRY BAKER (USA), 100m time – 10.58s

Since debuting in the Gold Coast leg of the World Rugby Sevens Series in 2014, Baker’s languidly-smooth, yet blisteringly-quick pace has seen him set the Sevens stage alight.

He has scored a scintillating 165 tries in only 33 World Series events, overtaking Zach Test’s mark of 143 scores, which took him double the amount of games.

Like Isles, also started off an NFL prospect, signed by the Philadelphia Eagles in July 2011 after graduating from West Virginia’s Fairmont State University with a degree in Criminal Justice. A knee injury cut short his NFL career, but he has gone on to illuminate the Sevens stage, named World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year in 2017.

Baker

8 SEABELO SENATLA (South Africa), 100m time – 10.6s

Another Sevens specialist, Senatla was a member of the Blitzbokke team that won a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics and won gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

The 25-year-old can hit full speed from a standing start in a blink, while his dazzling footwork has bamboozled some of the best tacklers in the game. Has played for Stormers in Super Rugby and Western Province in the Currie Cup since 2014.

Senatla

9 JOE ROKOCOKO (New Zealand), 100m time – 10.66s

Smokin’ Joe Rokocoko didn’t earn his nickname for nothing, as the Fijian-born All Black winger left defences trailing in his wake throughout his time with the All Blacks and Blues.

The winger ran a 10.66 100m in his prime and enjoyed a lightening start to his All Blacks career, scoring 25 tries in his first 20 tests.

He broke the All Blacks single-season record for test tries previously shared by Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen—his 17 Test tries in 2003 equals the world record held by Daisuke Ohata of Japan.

Now 34, he still plays for Racing Metro in France, while occupying joint ninth in most international tries, finishing with 46 in 68 New Zealand appearances.

Joe

10 DOUG HOWLETT (New Zealand), 100m time – 10.68s

Howlett is currently the seventh-highest try scorer in rugby union history and first on the all-time highest try scorers’ list for the All Blacks, crossing for a blistering 49 tries in 62 Tests. Even more stunning was his All Blacks career only spanned seven years.

The former Blues speedster plied his trade in the Northern Hemisphere with Munster for five years, winning the 2007/08 Heineken Cup with the Irish province.

Was considered the quickest around during his time in Super Rugby, clocking 10.68 in his prime, and showed his pace by scoring a plethora of long-range tries throughout his international and Super Rugby career.

Howlett

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Springboks legend Bryan Habana to retire at end of the season

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South Africa great Bryan Habana is to retire at the end of the season after being unable to force his way back into the Toulon team.

Habana underwent surgery to repair a long-standing knee injury last year but since recovering has found his path back into the starting XV blocked by the likes of Chris Ashton and Josua Tuisova.

The 34-year-old will retire as the Springboks’ leading try-scorer with 67 and three short of Victor Matfield’s record of 127 for caps won by a South African.

He was a World Cup winner in 2007 and was also named the world’s best player in the same year.

“The inevitable moment has come knocking on my door and I’ve welcomed it in for a beverage..” he said on Instagram.

“It’s been more than a year of hoping, trying, pushing and willing to get back on the field for one last time, to taste the sweet victory or encounter that gut-wrenching despair.

“To hear the roar of the crowd or grab the pill out of the air. To make that last bone crunching tackle or score that last game winning try. But it’s unfortunately just not to be.

“I, like most, would have liked my career to have ended differently, but sometimes things don’t turn out quite the way we hope for.

“So at the end of this season, it’s time to say goodbye and thank you to the game I so dearly love..”

Habana’s last Test appearance was in 2016, when he was also vice-captain, but South Africa’s decision to rely less on overseas-based players undermined his hope of adding to his 124 caps.

He made his debut at Twickenham in 2004 and developed into one of the sport’s most lethal finishers, his electric pace and eye for an intercept making him a deadly opponent.

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Leinster announce retirement of captain Isa Nacewa

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Captain Isa Nacewa will retire at the end of the season, Leinster have confirmed.

The 35-year-old utility back will bid to go out on a high by leading the Irish province to their fourth European title, with the Champions Cup final against Racing 92 set for May 12.

The Kiwi flyer will also hunt a Guinness PRO14 title to add to his PRO12 winner’s medal, in attempting to round off a highly-decorated career in style.

Hooker Richardt Strauss will also retire this summer, with the 17-cap Ireland front-rower bowing out after eight years with the province.

“It is hard to articulate the impact that both Isa and Richardt have had on this club since their arrival,” said Leinster coach Leo Cullen.

“Warriors on the pitch and wonderful men off it, they are, in my opinion, two of the best players to have ever worn the blue jersey. Their impact on this group of players will be felt for years to come.”

Nacewa joined Leinster from Auckland Blues in 2008, helping the province claim their three Heineken Cup triumphs.

The Auckland-born star retired in 2013 and joined the Blues as a mental coach, only to reverse that decision and rejoin Leinster as a player in 2015.

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