Habana yearns for return to top

Bryan Habana has enlisted the help of former Springbok visual performance skills coach Dr Sherylle Calder in a bid to return to form.

The Springbok and Bulls wing won the IRB Player of the Year award in 2007, but has since failed to replicate that form. He struggled in the 2008 Super 14, scoring just five tries and crossed the whitewash just once in the Tri-Nations.

To date Habana has remained silent on the issue of his ordinary performances, although there has been no shortage of team-mates and coaches willing to predict a speedy return to form – which has failed to materialise.

However, Habana’s a desperation to scale the heights of 2007 has lead him back to Calder, whose visual skills programme he credits for a lot of his success in that period. His plea to her: ‘Help me become the best player in the world again.’

‘He was off the visual skills programme for the whole of last year and only came back to it in mid-January. Bryan doesn’t think he is the best player in the world now, nowhere near,” Calder, who enjoyed a successful four-year tenure with the Springboks, told Peter Bills of the Independent Group.

‘If you reduce your visual skills you lose judgement. That means you start to drop the ball and then you lose confidence. And when you have that doubt in your mind then it’s a vicious circle.

‘Bryan tried a couple of intercepts at the start of the Super 14 season with the Bulls but he mistimed them and got into trouble with the defence because of that.

‘It’s all about timing. He got that timing spot on during the World Cup but now he doesn’t.’

Encouragingly, Calder, who has worked with the All Blacks, England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup winning squad, South Africa’ Davis Cup team, Monaco Football Club and an Australian Rugby League side, says Habana has made improvements since his return to the programme.

‘I assessed him at my office in Pretoria a couple of weeks ago but his skill levels are down on his previous scores. In fact, he was way down on what he had been reaching,’ she said.

‘Now, his skills are below average whereas they used to be better than anyone else’s. He was one of the best in the world by far.’

Calder, who ran the programme almost daily in her time with the Springboks, stressed that to gain its full benefit players had to be totally committed to it.

‘They are so busy today with so much other stuff. There are too many things happening other than rugby. Bryan is always saying he’s been on some photo shoot somewhere. But which should be the priority? Bryan needs to work on these skills at least four times a week for 20 minutes each time,’ Calder said.

‘These skills play a crucial role especially in the modern game when defences have never been tighter. One decision can change a whole game now and therefore I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to train every aspect of what you need on the field. The proof is there that this part of science plays a crucial role in top line sport.’

Calder is currently considering an offer from an unnamed international team.