Springbok backline coach Dick Muir conceded Bryan Habana is struggling for form but sought to alleviate some of the pressure on the winger by saying the attacking burden must be shared between the collective.
Habana spoke earlier in the week about his desperation to surpass the all-time Springbok try-scoring record of 38 tries (he is currently level on that figure with Joost van der Westhuizen). It will undoubtedly be a notable feat, but not one that should hail the return of a player who carries chronic struggles into a tournament he dominated four years ago.
Habana has scored just eight tries in 34 Tests since 2007, the year his excellent form in France earned him the IRB Player of the Year award (he scored 30 tries in 36 Tests pre-2008). His last five pointer came 10 Tests ago against Italy. He enters the global showpiece with a fractured confidence and having his training curtailed by a nagging injury this week would not have aided his cause.
Muir, however, believes Habana’s self-motivated nature stands him in good stead. ‘Bryan just wants to get on to the field and he’s been a bit frustrated this week by not being able to train full out and he’s certainly one of those players that puts in a lot of effort,’ he said.
‘He’s had one of those up and down years, where you see this outstanding player, and that’s what he wants to get back to. He’s really driven and for him it’s not just about scoring tries, it’s about the collective team effort.’
Habana has undoubtedly been adversely affected by the Springboks’ pragmatic approach under Peter de Villiers, but that alone cannot mitigate his gradual decline in potency. The Springboks are expected to persist with their kick-chase method, though Muir stressed that they were experienced enough to veer from the script when the time was right.
‘You want to have a little bit of flexibility in what you’re able to do, but I think a lot of teams get too caught up in worrying about the opposition, whereas you’ve got a job to do that presents you with certain opportunities,’ he said.
‘You’ve got to be able to exploit those opportunities and that’s where the flexibility and decision-making comes in and if you have a look at our squad overall, we’ve gone for mature, well-experienced guys that are tried and tested under pressure situations.’
Swirling winds are predicted for Sunday’s Test against Wales in Wellington which could adversely affect the Springboks’ kick-orientated game plan. Muir said their training sessions offered opportunities to simulate the expected conditions on match day.
‘The kicking game is always affected by the wind and where we are training it’s elevated and there’s a lot of wind there, so we practised our kicking game on Monday. The wind is certainly getting stronger now and we’re expecting it to swirl, but it’s the same for both teams.’
Flyhalf Morne Steyn wasn’t concerned about it. ‘We have played here a number of times, so I know the conditions well,’ he said. ‘It could count in our favour a bit – the fact that we have played here a couple of times, and probably no one from Wales [has].’
By Ryan Vrede, in New Zealand
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