AUCKLAND // Bryan Habana hopes his record-setting try for South Africa yesterday perks up Joost van der Westhuizen, the man he eclipsed.
The former scrum-half and 1995 Rugby World Cup winner is fighting a fatal motor neuron disease.
Habana finally took the record after sharing it with the half-back for 15 months, when he scored his 39th Test try in the 22nd minute of the Springboks’ 87-0 World Cup romp over Namibia.
In July, the 40 year old confirmed he had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and was given less than five years to live.
“It’s a great privilege and honour to go past such a great player, and I hope this gives him a boost to get through what he’s going through,” Habana said. “The whole team is very empathetic to what he’s going through and we send all our best to him.”
Habana had to endure a career-worst 11 Tests without scoring since mid-2010, with the pressure from supporters growing with every scoreless international. But the opportunity finally came, thanks to a cut-out pass from Danie Rossouw which put Habana in the clear. He slid across the line and hardly reacted on the field.
“All I could think about was that I needed to go and thank Danie for the little pass that got me there,” he said.
John Smit, the captain, gave Habana a congratulatory rub of the head, and said he did not say anything because he was tired after running from halfway to catch up with the winger. But he knew what the try meant to Habana and the team.
“It’s a monkey off his back,” Smit said. “Everyone’s been talking about why he hasn’t scored after every game, and everyone’s got on his back. But they don’t have anything to talk about now.”
Smit, who played with Van der Westhuizen, said the record should make South Africans appreciate the former scrum-half even more, as well as Habana.
“Now that he’s got the record out of the way, I’m sure we’ll see a new Bryan, and I’m sure he’s going to open up the game and score many more,” Smit said. “We know how much he’s dedicated himself to the team and how hard he works, so this record is well deserved.”
Habana acknowledged the try was a long time coming, but he shrugged off talk that not scoring for so long was weighing on his mind or form.
“A lot of people were more worried about it than me,” he said.
“First, I have to thank the man upstairs for blessing me with an amazing talent that lets me represent my country. I’m living the dream. Secondly, I have to thank my teammates and coaching staff – without them these 39 tries would mean nothing.
“I’m thankful I can contribute to this Springboks team, and I’m looking forward to going on and scoring a few more tries.”