Boks to lean on Habana experience
INTERVIEW: South Africa coach Allister Coetzee has embraced the return of wizard wing Bryan Habana as the wounded Springboks look to rebound from defeats to New Zealand and England by beating Italy on Saturday.
The pressure on Coetzee to revive an already ailing Boks has intensified since a 21-37 defeat to England at Twickenham last week, their first in a decade, followed hot on the heels of a record 57-15 home mauling at the hands of the All Blacks in Durban last month.
Anything less than a convincing win against a new-look Azzurri in Florence could spell disaster for Coetzee in his first year as head coach.
Yet the 53-year-old insists "continuity" is crucial as they look to build for the future.
As a result, Toulon's Habana and Stormers loose forward Nizaam Carr are the only two changes to the team that started against England at Twickenham.
Habana will earn his 124th cap and is only three tries short of retired Japan wing Daisuke Ohata's all-time test try tally of 69.
With captain and hooker Adriaan Strauss 59 appearances short of Habana's 123-cap tally, Coetzee is counting on the 33-year-old Habana's "management" skills in a "tough" game against an side still ailing from a 68-10 rout by the All Blacks in Rome a week ago.
"He understands what it takes, he's a true professional and hopefully he can aid with the game management this week," Coetzee said of Habana.
"This is not a test where you will see festival rugby, or think you're just going to open up and score tries. It's going to be a proper test match.
"With his experience, we're will have to build an innings this weekend. There will be a lot of kicking from the Italians, but we can't just start running from far out.
"No, we treat this game as one massive Test."
Habana said he is ready to exorcise the "frustration" of the historic defeat to England.
Toulon wing Habana's injury during a record home defeat to the All Blacks in Durban meant he was forced to watch from the sidelines as the Springboks' 10-year, 12-game winning streak over the English fell apart at Twickenham.
It was a "weird" feeling the 2007 IRB player of the year has experienced only twice in his long and storied career.
But, when placed alongside his desire to help Allister Coetzee's men dig themselves out of the rut that has seen the 'Boks win only one of their last six tests, there is no comparison.
Habana has replaced JP Pietersen on the wing for Saturday's cruncher in Florence, where he will line up for a 124th 'Boks appearance only three tries short of retired Japan wing Daisuke Ohata's all-time record of 69 test tries.
"I've only sat in the coaches box twice before in my career [in 2004 and 2011] and it was a weird feeling," Habana told media in Florence.
"I always want to be on the field and for every player sitting on the sidelines, holding tackle bags is not easy for anyone.
"Sitting where I was at Twickenham there was a lot of frustration seeing how well we played for 30 minutes and then making three or four mistakes that England capitalised on.
"We are in a tough situation but there is no one that is going to get us out of it but ourselves.
"It's been a good week of training, a positive week, but winning the Test on Saturday will be about the performance we put in between the four lines."
Habana has been named vice-captain behind skipper Adriaan Strauss in a move designed to "take responsibility away from other players", said Coetzee.
"Because a player doesn't get a title of a vice-captain or play 120 odd games for your country if you don't understand what it takes," added Coetzee.
Habana said: "Hopefully my experience and what I bring in terms of leadership can give the guys around me more opportunity to play rugby.
"We are disappointed as a team and I am looking forward to not only instilling some pride but also giving the team some direction because I believe it has the potential to be one of the great Bok teams with the talent we have."
Habana suggested past form - Italy have never beaten the 'Boks in 12 previous meetings - will count for nothing.
"Any Test is tough, especially at the moment. I've been involved in games that people never expected to be tough and have ended up being really tough," added Habana.
"Also, against the All Blacks last month we were 22-15 down with 20 minutes to go and ended up losing 57-15 so we are in no way underestimating Italy.
"I've played against Italy twice in Italy and not only do they get fired up before the game, they bring intensity in the game too.
"We understand this is the biggest game of our season, given the year we've had. We have to show improvement in all areas on Saturday.
"We have a lot of respect for them, especially with a guy like Brendan Venter giving them input.
"We have to play rugby for 80 minutes."