Over the course of his 12-year, 124-cap Springbok career, Bryan Habana became an inspiration for players young and old around the world.
Habana tasted Rugby World Cup glory in 2007, being named World Rugby Player of the Year as a result, and his devastating pace helped him become the joint-top try-scorer in the tournament’s history in 2015.
By the time Habana called time on his international career in 2016, only Daisuke Ohata had scored more than his 67 test tries, however, even he struggled to comprehend the impact made by Siya Kolisi following South Africa’s RWC 2019 triumph.
Kolisi, who had watched Habana’s South African side lift the Webb Ellis Cup in 2007 from a township shebeen, rose from extreme poverty to lead the Springboks to their third RWC triumph in Japan last year.
In an appearance on Sean Maloney’s ‘Inside the 22’ podcast, the great winger discussed the reasons why the story of the Springboks’ first black captain resonated with him so much.
“I got emotional that week [of the RWC 2019 final] because you know that story and I was on that field when he made his debut in 2013 against Scotland in Nelspruit,” Habana said.
“Ten minutes in Arno Botha got injured, Siya came on [and] then put in a man-of-the-match performance in his test debut — it’s incredible.
“To then go on that journey where, yes the highs and the lows, but to be at that pinnacle, at that specific moment in time knowing the hope and inspiration it causes, not just in South Africa but globally has been phenomenal.”
'Long may that journey continue'
Last week Kolisi fast-tracked the launch of his foundation in order to help send vital supplies to hospitals in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth trying to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Habana, who spoke to Maloney at the HSBC Sydney Sevens before the full impact of the outbreak became clear, believes the Springbok captain’s humility has helped him win over new fans around the world.
“He’s shot through so many different stratospheres in terms of not only popularity but what he’s perceived to be in the outside world,” Habana said.
“In a way you sort of feel for him because Siya’s never taken credit for this Rugby World Cup win.
“In every interview, in every speech, in every communication that you hear from him he’s saying, ‘I was just a custodian of the position, I was just a custodian of the jersey, without the team around me, without Rassie and his thinking, without the management staff, without everyone on my journey, nothing like that would have been possible'.
“And I think that’s something that people are so, so incredibly admiring about Siya’s position.”
Habana added: “His philanthropic work is phenomenal. I think the guy that put him through as a bursary in school is a South African now living in America.
“Siya went to go see him last year and they’ve now come up with a plan to build 100 sports fields in and around poverty-stricken areas in South Africa and, you know, long may that journey continue.”