Interview: Springboks legend Bryan Habana on RWC 2019, his glittering career and future plans

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Ten minutes after lifting the Webb Ellis trophy and shaking it to the dark Tokyo sky, Siya Kolisi walked over with his two kids to conduct an interview with Bryan Habana on British broadcaster ITV.

Habana, clearly overcome with emotion, came together with the winning skipper to sum up what the moment meant for the people of the Rainbow Nation.

It was a powerful embrace, one that will be long remembered between two South African legends and the millions of people who tuned in to watch the final worldwide.

From poverty-stricken township Zwide in Port Elizabeth to being the first black captain to lift the Rugby World Cup, Kolisi’s rags to riches journey is one to inspire far beyond the rugby pitch.

And Habana, the Springboks’ second most capped player of all-time, couldn’t hold back the tears or emotion as Kolisi produced a stunning post-match interview.

Speaking to Sport360, HSBC Ambassador Habana said: “To be able to be pitchside after that World Cup victory and to be able to have that embrace with Siya, knowing his journey and knowing the road he has come to get to that point was pretty special. It did cause a few tears which I couldn’t hold back.

“For South Africa to be inspired by someone who was totally underprivileged, for someone who watched my World Cup win in 2007 in a shanty because his parents couldn’t afford a television.

“Knowing Siya’s story and where the team was 18 months before, knowing what they had to overcome to win that title. No team had lost a game and gone on to win the tournament or no team had won the Rugby Championship and gone on to win it.

“As Rassie (Erasmus) said it after the match: The World Cup is not pressure, worrying about providing for your family and worrying about your next meal is pressure.”

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So so so PROUD!!! . . My comrade, OUR CAPTAIN!!! .

A post shared by Bryan Habana (@bryanhabana_) on

While Erasmus and Habana never crossed paths in terms of coaching and playing, there is a clear mutual respect for what both have gone on to achieve.

Since taking over as head coach in March 2018, Erasmus has transformed a struggling Springboks team and sold an extremely effective game plan to his players that has been the catalyst for their success.

He has managed to build depth in most positions and capture the imagination of the South African rugby public again, thanks largely to Rugby Championship and Webb Ellis Cup triumphs this year.

“Rassie doesn’t like laying out too many rules, but the ones he does, you have to abide by them. In doing that, you see the way he has brought a team from a wobbly status to Rugby World Cup champions,” said the 36-year-old.

“He’s a good guy, one of the most innovative, forward thinking coaches the game has ever seen. He’s gone down in history having achieved some greatness.”

A lot can be said of his words for Erasmus, and there is no doubt many would think the same of Habana, who hummed with godliness during his 16 years as a professional.

Making his international debut as a 21-year-old against England in 2004, the razor sharp winger went on to score a scintillating 67 tries in 124 Tests.

During his glittering days in a Springbok shirt, he played a key role in Tri Nations success, Lions series wins and the crowning moment for any player – a World Cup triumph in 2007.

While lining out for the Lions, Bulls, Stormers, West Province and Toulon, he won nearly everything the game had to offer, from Top 14 titles, Heineken Cups, Currie Cups and Super Rugby crowns, as well as numerous Player of the Year accolades.

“The proudest moment of my career was getting my debut for the Springboks. Because to get that opportunity, to get that privilege and honour of representing your country at the highest level was amazing and also understand the privilege that came with it. I was ably supported by family, coaches, team-mates throughout my career,” said the Johannesburg native.

“I said early on that I’m only going to judge myself when it’s done and dusted. It’s difficult to see the records, trophies and all these things people look alike, but for me, to be inspired back in 1995 to take up rugby, I’m just extremely fortunate to have some absolutely brilliant memories.”

The memories, medals, highlights reels and countless pictures will always be there to look back on, and when rugby historians sit down to select their team of the decade, he is sure to be one of the players to occupy the wing berths. He was a messiah and a rare breed of player to light up the game.

Life has taken its natural course now. He still wears that same smile that was so synonymous during his playing days, whether it be scoring tries, lifting trophies and the many other successes over the years.

Since retiring in November 2016, he has graduated from the Toulouse Business School, has opened his own sports marketing company, and acts as an ambassador for a raft of companies such as MasterCard, Adidas and HSBC.

“At this moment, to be able to do ambassadorial roles and do some television work at World Cups, I’ve been so fortunate. I’m doing some foundation work with the Bryan Habana Foundation from a leadership perspective to allow them to grow and develop,” said Habana.

“I love the game and the analytical side of things. I was able to be coached by some fantastic coaches. I’d love to do some sort of mentorship or consultancy if that arises but, for me, I’m extremely grateful for the life rugby gave me.

“I opened a digital sports marketing last year which has gone pretty well. We’ve won one or two awards at the Sports Industry Awards in South Africa.”

Like most professional sports stars just out of the game, it’s hard to dive straight back into a new career and sometimes the best option is to sit back and see what opportunities arise before rushing into a decision.

Back in Cape Town with his wife Janine and two kids, there is an excitement in his voice when he talks about spending more time with his family and playing football and tag rugby with his five-year-old son Timothy over the next few months.

“It’s short term objectives for me and now ideally to get back into a bit training as well, spending more time with the family and hopefully achieve that dad of the year status for 2020,” he said.

“Hopefully I can transition well enough to make a success from life after rugby. I don’t want to be worrying about where the next meal is coming from, but to do that, you have to work extra hard. You can be an extremely great rugby player but that doesn’t mean you can automatically transfer into a great businessman.”

Warm, engaging and outgoing, there is no doubt that Habana will make a tremendous success in whatever he goes on to pursue.

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