LONDON, 7 Oct - Bryan Habana was humbled to equal the World Cup try-scoring record of his hero Jonah Lomu after his typically opportunistic hat-trick helped blast the Springboks into the World Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday.
Yet the latest demonstration of Habana’s poaching mastery still left coach Heyneke Meyer demanding more from his deadliest finisher as the resurgent Boks rampaged into the last eight with a performance which made the calamitous defeat against Japan 18 days earlier seem light years distant.
The 32-year-old joined Lomu on 15 World Cup tries as his treble, scored in the space of 19 second-half minutes, capped the Springboks’ crushing 64-0 victory over the USA - the most one-sided victory in this year's tournament.
The hat-trick also drew the wing level with David Campese on 64 test tries in total, the record for any player from a tier-one nation, and it could have been sweeter for Habana had he not fluffed two further chances to set new landmarks.
He could not help but smile ruefully when the ball agonisingly eluded his clutches as he plummeted over the line for what would have been the record-breaking try. Yet nothing was going to take away from his joy at matching Lomu, the colossus that Habana marvelled at as a boy.
“For me he is an inspiration,” Habana said. “In 1995 for me in that World Cup, to see a guy like Jonah Lomu demolish England, he went on to become a global superstar. I will never forget. I was there targeting signatures.
“I’ve an unbelievable amount of respect for what he gave to the game, even more so for what he meant to the game."
The Toulon flyer's performance earned the highest praise from Meyer, but the Springboks coach challenged his sniper-in-chief to reprise his current scintillating form - five tries makes him RWC 2015’s joint top try scorer with All Black wing Julian Savea - in the quarter-final against either Australia or Wales.
“He’s always played well for me. He’s always the guy who comes through in big games,” Meyer said.
“When we’ve really needed him in the last three weeks, he’s been at his best. I’m so proud of him. It’s really great that he’s on form because we’re going to need more tries from him.”
Meyer dared suggest Habana might not have quite the searing pace of old. But the wing's intelligence and positioning, such as when he scooped up a loose ball at the fringe of a maul to dive over for his hat-trick in the right corner, demonstrated the priceless attributes experience had given him.
The Springboks ran in 10 tries in total at the Olympic stadium - Francois Louw scored twice and Damian de Allende, Jesse Kriel, Bismarck du Plessis, Lwazi Mvovo and a penalty try comprised the rest of the rout - to make a powerful statement of intent, not just about their rejuvenated confidence but about just how good they really can be.
“That’s Springbok rugby, that’s power rugby,” Meyer declared, seemingly happiest not with the 64 in the ‘for’ column but the fact that his side had been the first to keep the opposition scoreless at this highly competitive World Cup.
Asked who he would prefer in the last eight, Meyer summoned a wry smile: “The only team I wouldn’t want to play is Japan. It nearly cost me my… well, I won’t go into that now.”