Habana: I'm still available for Boks
Habana: I'm still available for BoksSHARE
Record-breaking Springbok wing Bryan Habana may be heading to Toulon in France soon, but his stay may well be short-lived.
The 30-year-old wing, who scored his record 50th try in his 86th Test against Samoa last month, will make his final appearance for the Stormers in the big north-south derby against the Bulls at Newlands on Saturday.
Then, just a week later, he boards a plane to Toulon in France – where he will make his first appearance in a warm-up game against Racing Metro on August 2.
However, Habana hopes to return a fortnight later to feature for South Africa in the historic rugby and soccer double header at Soccer City in Soweto – the opening round of the Rugby Championship[, when SA face Argentina.
While Habana admitted that his departure to France means he is no longer a 'first-choice' option for Bok coach Heyneke Meyer, he hopes to get a 'come back soon' call from the Bok mentor.
"That is one negotiable I made sure the guys over there [at Toulon] put in my contract," he said, when asked if he was still available for selection for the national team.
"I will never give up on South African rugby," Habana said, adding: "That Springbok jersey means so much to me. I've seen how it can bring people together and how it can lift a whole nation.
"Hopefully I can continue, in a way, to play my part if the coach deems me fit and good enough to be selected in that Green and Gold team.
"I am definitely hoping to be back [for the August 17 Test], but I'm not going to go make a big story [statement] to the coach, I'm not in anyway going to put the coach under pressure.
"First and foremost it is about applying my mind [to the Toulon job] and settling [down] overseas as quickly as possible and hopefully maintaining a state where I am available for selection.
"Hopefully that game on August 2 against Racing Metro won't be such an intense one, as it is a warm-up [game].
"However, my body is feeling good at the moment and hopefully I can continue playing the type of rugby I have been playing over the last couple of weeks and the coach deems it good enough that I can be selected."
Habana, who cemented his place among the sport's elite with a series of outstanding displays during South Africa's 2007 World Cup triumph, said the Bok coach had a very clear message to players playing abroad.
"We got a message from [Springbok coach] Heyneke [Meyer] that his first priority is to make South African rugby strong," the Bok flyer said.
"Unfortunately the reality is a weak [South African] economy against the strong Euro, Pound and even the Yen. That is always going to make it difficult for South Africa and South African rugby," he said, when asked about the mass exodus of high-profile players to the cash-flush European markets.
"The pool of money [in SA] is only so big.
"Also, the amount of rugby people are playing is also a pretty intense debate at the moment – that will need to be sorted out in the next couple of years. Whether we go to a global season or not is going to be pretty interesting to see."
He said it will always be difficult for South African rugby to compete with what is happening overseas.
"I fully support South African rugby, wanting to promote South Africa first and foremost.
"Me going overseas, [I know] there is no guarantee of a place in the Springbok side.
"It [players going overseas] is always going to be a difficult debate, but unfortunately one that is going to be on the table each and every year.
"The powers that be, the administrators, are doing their utmost to keep as many players in SA as possible.
"Again, we, as players going overseas, know we give up on being first choice for selection for the Springboks.
"It is a decision you are trying to make with your head."
Habana said there is a great young group of players coming through and fantastic talent throughout the franchises in South Africa.
"I think South Africa's in a good place and if you are the best in the world it is going to be difficult for the coach to leave you out.
"However, you will need to be banging on that door pretty hard to be selected for the Springbok side."
By Jan de Koning
* Don't miss the rest of our broad-ranging interview with Bryan Habana, when he also discusses his last game at Newlands (against the Bulls on Saturday), what the Bulls' prospects are, the highlights and disappointments during his four-year stint in Cape Town and his thoughts on moving to Toulon.