Healing Habana

There are lessons for Bryan Habana in JP Pietersen’s return to form.

Pietersen is testament to the adage about the permanence of class compared to the fleeting nature of form.

He was the tournament’s pre-eminent winger in 2007, scoring 12 tries, but was a grim shadow of that player in 2008, where he went tryless.

However, Pietersen has been anything but ordinary in 2009, crossing the chalk six times in his seven matches, and in so doing reaffirming himself as a key player in the Sharks’ line-up.

And while the primary measurement of a winger should always be tries scored, Pietersen’s game in its entirety is where it was in 2007. His work-rate on attack and defence was questionable in 2008, but there is an observable improvement in this regard, while he seems to have rediscovered his game breaking ability.

His troubles never had a technical root. By all accounts an attitude adjustment was required, and made. Habana, Pietersen’s Springbok wing partner, could do worse than heed lessons from Pietersen’s journey.

As prolific as he was at both Super Rugby and Test level in 2007, so was he deeply disappointing a year later.

Former coaches and players have been liberal in offering their theories on the root cause of Habana’s decline. Some have focused on perceived technical flaws in his game, others suggest that Habana, having won the Super 14 and World Cup in the same year, has lost the desire to succeed.

By pleading with former Springbok visual performance coach Sheryl Calder to assist him in his attempt to rekindle his best form, Habana believes technical intervention is needed. Perhaps in private he would have questioned his attitude as well. Others certainly have.

Provided he doesn’t suffer a recurrence of the hand injury that has kept him sidelined for the last month, Habana is likely to start against the Crusaders on Friday. Bulls coach Frans Ludeke claims he is hungrier than ever to make a telling contribution to their campaign. That remains to be seen.

In 2007 he sparked to life with a late try against the Chiefs. It was a defining moment in a campaign that would culminate in him scoring the championship-winning try at King’s Park. Along the way he was sensational against the Waratahs in Sydney and immense in the Bulls’ impossibly brilliant victory over the Reds at Loftus.

It would be stating the obvious to say that the Bulls need that player back.

Only the brave would suggest that Habana has touched the ceiling of his potential and will never again enthral in the manner he did in 2007. But those who hold that view could be right, although personally I doubt they are.

The Sharks’ coaching staff don’t tolerate individualism and during Pietersen’s slump in form they left him with no doubt about where he stood in their estimation.

That’s not to suggest that the Bulls tolerate players with personal agendas, by all accounts they do not, but there’s a perception that they have nursed Habana with kid gloves. Someone needs to shoot from the hip in dealing with him.

By Ryan Vrede