Bryan Habana and Jean de Villiers produced the kind of performances at Newlands that screamed world class. Both remain integral to the quality of any Springbok challenge.
Habana has signed for Toulon but he has shown in the past two seasons, after a fatigued 2011, that he still ranks among the finest wings in the game. Locally, he remains the best.
His work off the ball against the Bulls was a lesson to any would be international winger. His enthusiasm in chasing every kick was another lesson that a kick invariably is only as good as the chase that accompanies the kick.
Habana showed pace to score one try and nearly got another because of his pace. But it’s the experience gained from nearly a decade as a Test player that highlighted the quality of his performance.
He leaves this week for Toulon but a change of scenery can only benefit a player who has achieved everything in the game. Habana has won the World Cup, the Tri Nations, Super Rugby and the Currie Cup.
He has been South Africa’s Player of the Year three times and is one of the elite IRB World Player of the Year recipients for his 2007 Rugby World Cup performance.
Habana’s Test experience must not be confined to the archives because he will be playing Top 14 rugby. The player said Bok coach Heyneke Meyer had given him encouragement about future Tests but also been honest that if a better option emerged locally the South African-based player would be the preferred selection.
I am from the school that believes you pick the best player, regardless of his club, provincial or regional base. I also believe you pick the best player, regardless of his age. I also believe you don’t easily discard world-class players when it comes to national selection.
Meyer has always prepared for the now. The Bok coach is results driven and his philosophy is that a team has to win while it develops, especially at Test level.
But Meyer will also be glancing towards the 2015 World Cup year and Habana is integral to the quality of back three player the Boks will take to the World Cup in 2015. That should be his final international curtain call.
The cultural experience of a new environment will add to his invigoration. South African rugby, in essence Meyer, must keep on investing in the Bok winger because Habana can still be influential to the success of the Boks.
Bok and Stormers captain De Villiers is in a class of his own as a Test midfielder. Jan Serfontein and JJ Englebrecht have the potential, individually, and as a combination, to be special international players, but currently De Villiers ticks every box you’d want in a Test midfielder.
His leadership has also matured and he has presence on the field. The Stormers and Springboks are better teams when De Villiers is playing.
Morne Steyn is another veteran playing the best rugby of his career. Steyn’s class showed at Newlands. His forwards were physically manhandled in the collisions and there was absolutely no front foot ball from which to dictate the flow of the game.
But when Steyn kicked for field position he did it brilliantly. He read the game with the authority of a world class Test flyhalf and he continues to play with greater expression.
Steyn is another whose talents must not be ignored because he, like Habana, has chosen the cultural and playing experience of the French Top 14.
Steyn, in a losing cause, was world class. The Stormers, in a winning cause, were world class.
Stormers supporters will feel bitter sweet after watching their team bash the Bulls. It showed the quality of the side but in the context of the season also showed just how badly they had under performed.
The Bulls have been better this season than most expected, but they have not been as good as their league position suggests. This was evident at Newlands.
They certainly were up for the game and they couldn’t have lacked for motivation, given victory would have ensured a 1st place league finish.
They simply were not good enough to beat the Stormers and, playing away from home in the play-offs, they aren’t good enough to win either.
The Bulls confirmed again that the granite when playing at home too often turns to putty when asked to be as imposing on the road.
The Bulls will only win the championship if the Crusaders or Reds beat the Chiefs in Hamilton and have to travel to Loftus for a final.
If the Bulls are asked to travel to Hamilton for a final they’ll take a 20-point beating.