Fly or die

Is Bryan Habana the catalyst Western Province need for a renaissance, or has he committed career suicide?

The deal is not done yet, with the Bulls still having an opportunity to match or better WP’s reported R3 million offer. Only a fool would bet against Habana sealing the deal.

The Bulls won’t match the offer, and even in the unlikely scenario that they could, the prospect of owning a player who has his heart set on trading the horns for the hoops will deter them.

But just because he won’t stay doesn’t mean he shouldn’t.

The paycheque is one massively appealing factor, but surely can’t have been the decisive one, as he could have tripled his salary with a couple of strategic calls to France, England or (God forbid) Japan. There must have been other considerations, notwithstanding the obvious one of not risking being dropped by Springbok coach Peter de Villiers, a man utterly reluctant to select overseas-based players.

Habana will effectively trade a winning culture for one fuelled by ambition, a team laden with experienced Springboks for one packed with talented 20 somethings, and mild winters for miserable ones.

The freshness of the challenge after five years spent at the Bulls must have held an appeal. There’s no doubt the silver-tongued Rassie Erasmus spread the jam so thickly on Habana’s lips that he virtually signed there and then – despite his assertion to the contrary in a text message to Bulls team-mates where he claims it was the hardest decision of his life.

What was spun to Habana to make him leave the comfort of Loftus and the promise the team held (they’ve secured the signatures of all their key players up until the end of 2011, while WP have lost two in Luke Watson and Jean de Villiers) is unknown, and will remain so until Habana releases his autobiography in a couple of years in which he will detail the negotiation process, which incidentally lasted all of a week.

Perhaps there was a promise of the arrival of some high-profile players, particularly tight forwards? As an aside, heaven knows they could have tempted the Du Plessis brothers, Bismarck and Jannie, said to be on the lookout for a move from the Sharks, with the king’s ransom they’ve offered Habana. It doesn’t take a technical guru to know that without the heavies flicking the launch switch the ballistic missile on the wing is rendered redundant.

Speculation in that regard is futile. What is certain is that the Bulls are not the losers in the final analyses. They have enough quality in Fourie du Preez, Victor Matfield, Pierre Spies, Bakkies Botha and co to soften the blow of Habana’s departure. And it will be a blow. Habana is the consummate professional, well liked and inspirational to his Bulls’ team-mates. There’ll no doubt be a mourning period, but they’ll rebound and be in the mix at the business end of the 2010 Super 14.

WP, conversely, have pinned their hopes of a renaissance on a player who is a shadow of the one he was in his prime between 2005 and 2007. He may yet rediscover that form but, equally, he may prove to be a very costly failure.

I’m from the school of thought that simply can’t justify such an exorbitant sum of money spent on a 26-year-old wing who has won everything there is to win in his career, barring the Currie Cup. Matfield and Du Preez – the pre-eminent players in their positions in the world – are worth R3 million, so are Heinrich Brussow and Bismarck du Plessis as they will only get better. Those are intelligent investments.

In the past two years at the Bulls, Habana’s struggles were somewhat veiled because of the quality the team possessed in other areas of the pitch. If Habana didn’t score Du Preez would, or the forwards would rumble in the irrepressible manner they’ve become renowned for, or Morné Steyn would kick a gazillion points.

There’ll be no such comforting shield afforded or available to Habana at WP. Here’s hoping he can cope and excel with the expectations. They are massive.

By Ryan Vrede