Break would have served Habana better

GRANT BALL writes that Bryan Habana should have been rested for Saturday’s Test against Australia.

Peter de Villiers said on Monday that every step from now on must be for the good of the World Cup, and you would assume that would mean seeing the top players reach the event in the best possible form and in good physical condition. Mentally, the players have highlighted the difficulty in getting up for big matches consistently, and this seems the likely scenario with Habana, who will be expected to play another Test in Bloemfontein.

His confidence hit new lows at Loftus as he gifted James O’Connor a try and was caught in possession in the build-up to Dean Mumm’s. In between those two examples it was clear he tried too hard to make up for O’Connor’s score by running from behind his own line after Kurtley Beale’s missed long-range penalty, and then he hacked the ball into touch, which resulted in a net gain for the Wallabies. That example more than any other showed what state of mind Habana is in: he felt he should counter-attack, but then didn’t believe he could break through the defence when confronted by would-be tacklers.

The question is how can he – like so many other Boks this season – look so different a player to the one who succeeded in the Super 14? Habana, and for that matter any Bok back and especially wing, hasn’t been helped by the Boks’ limited and one-dimensional attacking game. Habana’s last three Test tries have come against Italy – a side ranked outside the top 10 – while he’s also had little constructed for him. At the Stormers, Habana is used as a strike runner, but with the Boks he’s merely a finisher on the end of a backline who’ve lacked creativity.

Habana’s best moment in the last two years was scoring the series-turning try against the British & Irish Lions at Loftus. With the exception of his tries against Australia in Perth, he’s looked largely ineffectual since. The worrying factor from the Bok management’s perspective is why similar opportunities haven’t been created for him.

Telling statistics since De Villiers took over as Bok coach show that Habana has scored just eight tries in 29 Tests, compared to 30 in 36, pre-2008. During the same time-frame against the top five nations, including the Lions, Habana’s record has slumped to five tries in 21 Tests under De Villiers, compared to 15 in 23 between 2004 and the end of 2007.

It may seem harsh to drop or rest a player who’s been susceptible to the team and coaching staff’s failings, but a break at times like these is often the best medicine to refresh the mind and body.

Habana is set to be announced in the Bok side named on Tuesday where he’ll benefit from a midfield combo of Jaque Fourie and Jean de Villiers, but he would’ve been aided more by a complete break from the game, with Gio Aplon starting. In two interviews with keo.co.za in the last three months, Habana has been one individual to speak openly about not being over-played, as before the Tri-Nations started, he was already nearing the recommended game-time of 1400-1600 minutes per year.

Habana talked about the value of being rested at the right times, and this week was just that. De Villiers explained his re-selection of players such as Habana due to the local fans wanting to see them, but bowing to perceived public sentiment isn’t in a Springbok coach’s job description.

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