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Into the sunset

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Bryan Habana announces that he will call it quits on his rugby career at the end of the current European season

THANK YOU AND GOODBYE: South Africas Bryan Habana announced yesterday that hes bringing the curtain down on his rugby career. Picture: BackpagePix

THERE is little doubt that Bryan Habana is the most decorated rugby player in South African history, and that would then surely make him this country’s greatest player ever.

Habana will quit the game at the end of the current European season having literally done it all – he’s won trophies for every team he’s played for; his career has been one highlight after the next; his fierceness on the field made him the ultimate opponent, and his try-scoring ability ensured he will always be known as a try machine.

His out and out pace, his great speed out on the wing, was his biggest asset, striking fear into all who faced him. He was the deadly finisher every team dream of having, but he was more than that – he also read the game brilliantly, scoring many a try from working out the opposition and intercepting passes.

But more than all these things, Habana has always been the consummate professional on and off the field.

South Africa has produced some world class players over the years, highly respected men who have been labelled legends and greats – Danie Craven, Francois Pienaar, Os du Randt, Danie Gerber, Joos van der Westhuizen, Naas Botha, Frik du Preez, Schalk Burger, Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez – but perhaps Habana surpasses all of them.

Of course, comparing players from different eras is never a wise thing to do and one always has got to bear in mind how much the game has changed over the years, most especially in recent times in the professional era, but Bryan Gary Habana somehow ticks every box.

Whether it was for King Edward VII School, the Lions, the Bulls, Western Province and the Stormers, Toulon, the SA Under-21s, the SA Sevens team and the Springboks, he was a standout player and the ultimate team man.

Initially a scrumhalf and outside centre, the now 34-year-old burst onto the scene for the Lions in 2003 and became a Bok a year later.

But he really hit it big after moving to the Bulls in 2005 when he joined the likes of Matfield, Du Preez, Bakkies Botha, Morné Steyn and Danie Rossouw to dominate SA and southern hemisphere interprovincial rugby.

In all, Habana played 124 Tests, his last in 2016, and in total scored 67 tries, the most by a Springbok. He thrilled fans from Loftus to Newlands and all over the world, his highlights no doubt including the World Cup triumph with one of the best Bok sides of all time in France in 2007.

Habana is one of the greatest rugby players the world has seen.

French club Toulon, like all the teams before them, were happy to splash the cash to have him on their books, and they were all richly rewarded. Habana didn’t only score tries and help win trophies for his teams, he played a huge part in making those outfits and clubs the best in the world at certain stages.

Habana easily stands alongside the likes of Jonny Wilkinson, Dan Carter and Richie McCaw as the best in the modern game.

Take in what he has accomplished and won and you’ll understand why he’s right up there: He has scored the most Super Rugby tries by a South African; is a three-time South African Rugby Player of the Year (2012, 2007, 2005); was South African Young Player of the Year in 2004; was World Player of the Year in 2007, Super Rugby Player of the Tournament in 2005; and he scored a record-equalling eight tries during Rugby World Cup 2007.

Apart from the 2007 World Cup triumph, Habana also tasted success by winning the Rugby Championship (Tri-Nations), the Super Rugby competition and the Currie Cup.

It’s been a fantastic career that leaves one asking: Was Bryan Habana perhaps the greatest rugby player this country has produced?