SYDNEY, Aug 4 (Reuters) - Bryan Habana scored a try with his first touch of the ball in international rugby and 99 tests later the South Africa winger remains one of the most lethal finishers in the game.
On Saturday, the 31-year-old will become the fourth Springbok to win 100 caps when he lines up on the left wing in the Rugby Championship test against Australia in Perth.
Among his South African record 56 tries are nine in 19 matches against the Wallabies, including a hat-trick in Pretoria two years ago.
As one of South Africa’s most experienced players, though, Habana feels his input these days needs to be greater than just dotting the ball down over the whitewash.
“It would be pretty awesome to score my 10th try against Australia in my 100th test,” he said this week.
“But, that said, I think the contribution I need to give as a senior player who’s been there and done it, will be more important off the field than on it.”
Blessed with explosive pace, excellent football skills and an unswerving commitment to the cause, Habana has been one of the most prolific try scorers in rugby since making his debut against then world champions England at Twickenham in 2004.
“It’s been a wonderful journey over the last 11 seasons and one I feel very privileged to be a part of,” he added.
”Through the good times and the bad times, the journey has been one that I’ve enjoyed every step of the way.
“Yes, there’s been some trying times but just to get the chance to live out your dream, to be part of a team that represents a country and stands for so much.”
The good times have included a World Cup win and IRB World Player of the Year award in 2007 as well as a British and Irish Lions series triumph and Tri-Nations title in 2009.
The bad followed soon afterwards when he was booed by the crowd during a defeat to Australia at Bloemfontein in 2010 in the midst of the often troubled coaching reign of Peter de Villiers.
Habana said while that was disappointing, he had never lost faith in his own talent or his desire to wear the Springbok jersey.
“The true greats are the ones that bounce back,” he said. “Hopefully when I do hang up my boots, I’ll have left the jersey in a better place than when I received it 11 seasons ago.” (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Patrick Johnston)