Habana, World Cup winner & Springbok record-holder, retiring

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Bryan Habana, the lightning-fast South Africa wing and World Cup winner with an insatiable hunger for scoring tries — a record 67 for the Springboks — announced Tuesday he will retire from rugby at the end of the season.

The 34-year-old Habana, who played 124 tests for South Africa and whose try tally is the second-most by a player in international rugby, made the announcement on his Twitter and Instagram accounts.

 

So it’s my turn to say Thank You: . The inevitable moment has come knocking on my door and I’ve welcomed it in for a drink. . 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. . To try and sum up the past 16 years and how quickly they’ve flown by or even begin to describe how amazing the journey has been is impossible. . I would though like to express my gratitude: . • First and foremost, to God for blessing me with the talent to play this beautiful game. • To my wife Janine, Timothy and our newborn Gabriel, for your support, sacrifice and love to follow me to all corners of the earth so that I can pursue my dreams. • To my family and friends, far and wide, who wore their hearts on their sleeves as much as I did. • To the coaches, team-mates, medical and support staff in all the teams I was involved in. • To every opponent that made the battle tough and worthwhile. • To all my sponsors over the years who believed in me enough to support me on the journey. • To the fans, who make the game what it is. • To the critics, not to prove you wrong but so that I could prove to myself I could. • To the media, who take the game to households the world over. • To the lessons learnt, through the good times and the bad. • To the friendships made and experiences a plenty. . But most of all to Rugby, because for me it truly is a game made in heaven. . As a close friend one said: “memories are all we have.” And I’m immensely grateful for the memories I take with me into the next chapter. . With much respect . BH11

A post shared by Bryan Habana (@bryanhabana_) onApr 24, 2018 at 4:00am PDT

Habana wrote that he would officially retire at the end of the season but conceded that after battling a knee injury for over a year he probably won't get the chance to play one more time for his French club Toulon.

"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," Habana wrote in his social media post. "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."

Habana continued: "So at the end of this season, it's time to say goodbye and thank you to the game I so dearly love."

Despite not being able to finish the way he wanted, Habana won just about everything a South African could: The World Cup, a southern hemisphere championship and a series against the British and Irish Lions with the Springboks. At club level, he collected two Super Rugby titles and two Currie Cups in South Africa. With Toulon, he won Europe's top club competition twice and the French league title.

He was world player of the year in 2007, the year he won the World Cup with the Springboks.

South Africa's Bryan Habana scores his second try during the Rugby World Cup. Photo/AP
South Africa's Bryan Habana scores his second try during the Rugby World Cup. Photo/AP

Habana's career was in many ways defined by the number of tries he scored: His national record of 67 for the Boks is the most by any player from a top-tier nation and second only to Japanese winger Daisuke Ohata's 69.

He scored them throughout, starting on his test debut against England at Twickenham in 2004 and in his 124th and last test against Italy in Florence in 2016. Ironically, both those games ended up being losses for South Africa. But in between them, Habana's lethal finishing helped the Springboks to win the 2007 World Cup, the 2009 southern hemisphere title, and a 2009 series over the Lions.

The British and Irish Lions tweeted: "A great guy on and off the field .... One of the best players we've ever faced, best of luck in retirement @BryanHabana!"

In the 2007 World Cup triumph with South Africa, Habana scored eight tries, equaling the record for one World Cup by the late, great Jonah Lomu of New Zealand. Habana also later equaled Lomu's record of 15 career tries at World Cups.

Yet Habana had more than just his "jet shoes," a term memorably used by an Australian TV commentator when the flying wing came to prominence with two blistering length-of-the-field tries against the Wallabies in 2005.

Habana, only 5-foot-11 and small for a rugby player, also had bags of courage in defense. He would often pull off try-saving tackles or put his body on the line to help his team hold out the opposition. He was ultra-professional, a role model for dedication and commitment and seldom injured in his 16-year career, despite the knee struggles at the end.

"We have been privileged to have witnessed the career of Bryan Habana, who will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the great legends of Springbok rugby," said South African rugby president Mark Alexander. "During a career that spanned more than a decade and a half, he stood out as one of the most professional players ever to don the Springbok jersey, and over the years Bryan has been central to many of the most memorable occasions in the era of professional rugby.

"We will never forget every time he delighted us by crossing the try-line or putting in yet another bone-crunching tackle, but those close to him will also remember the Bryan that was a true professional, always going about his task giving 100%."

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