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Dublin: 5 °C Sunday 8 December, 2019
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Habana getting set to make up for lost time in Toulon shirt

But first, he’s hoping to be part of ‘a long day at the office’ against Munster.

Image: INPHO/Billy Stickland

A NEW EXPERIENCE is often one of the factors cited when rugby players choose to move clubs, countries or hemispheres.

Well, Bryan Habana is certainly getting a few of those.

Aside from absorbing the fine weather and struggling to improve his French, the prolific Springbok try-scorer was given an experience he didn’t expect as the latest hurdle in a season dogged by injuries.

“It was a first in my career,” Habana says of his role as an unused replacement in Toulon’s Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Leinster.

“I’d have loved play some part, especially with it being the last game at Mayol in Europe. It was frustrating, but I think just being a part of that team and maintaining my role in the dynamic of the team was important.

“I’ve a new found respect for guys that do sit there quite a bit that don’t always get the game time. I’ve been very privileged and lucky that I’ve played quite a lot.”

Given the resources at the disposal of head coach Bernard Laporte, the Springbok wing should count himself lucky to get on the pitch when another Irish province head to the Cote D’Azur this weekend. While Jonny Wilkinson is likely to instantly retake his place in the number 10 shirt, niggling knocks have restricted Habana to just 70 minutes since returning from four months out with injury.

“That’s the longest injury break I’ve had in my career. It’s been enjoyable getting a break, but it’s been frustrating sitting in the front row with the team doing so well.”

Munster will encounter a Toulon side at close to the peak of their powers. The reigning champions are favourites to retain their Heineken Cup crown and two consecutive away victories in the Top14 have allowed them open up a small bit of breathing space at the summit of the French league.

However, even recent imports like Habana have encountered Munster’s hard-earned reputation long before setting foot on northern hemisphere soil.

“Munster have been the one club, watching in South Africa, that you really stand up and expect some big things,” says South Africa’s record try-scorer.

‘A long day at the office’

“You can’t just turn up and expect the home crowd is going to do it for you. You’ve got to respect the opponent you’re up against You’ve got to be physically and mentally fit for what’s to come

“It’s going to be a very long day at the office. It’s not that we’re going to be fearful of Munster. We’re going to respect what they’re going to bring  and respect the calibre of player they have. We’re going to go into this game and put everything on the line, because if we don’t we’re going to come up short because of the calibre that Munster bring.”

That professional approach is an important point that Habana and every Toulon player feel they need to reinforce. The wing admits that the view of Toulon as a squad of mercenaries is “annoying”, adding:

“People that come here haven’t come to just play a couple of games. They come to become successful.”

The ‘hired gun’ accusation is a difficult one to tally with the highly-organised and disciplined south coast side. And after coming up short in last season’s French final, the double is a dream that they are determined to live out.

“Doing the double would be something amazing, something historic. I think everyone at this club would love to be a part of that. So we’re definitely going to be going all out.

“As part of a professional set up we don’t just want to target one,” insists the 30-year-old.

“Toulon have got into the Top 14 final twice in the last couple of years and lost both – it definitely is a tall ask of any player to go on and win two finals in consecutive weekends, but that’s the beauty of this game.

Rugby Union - Heineken Cup - Pool 2 - Exeter Chiefs v Toulon - Sandy Park Source: Tim Ireland

“If you want to be seen as the best in the world, if you want to be part of a club that can create history you’ve got to lay down everything on the line every weekend.”

And this weekend, ‘everything’ will be channelled into beating Ireland’s southern province, taking a massive step towards equalling their haul of two European titles.

“For us all; the focus, emphasis and objectives have shifted onto the game against Munster. We’re definitely going to go all out. At this club we’ve so many players to choose from, and so many players playing fantastic rugby at the moment.

“We’ll take it Saturday by Saturday and hopefully in six weeks we’ll be able to have an eye on what we’ve done in terms of silverware in the cupboard.”

That, though, is nothing new for Habana.

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Sean Farrell

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