Habana the toast of Twickers

2009-12-07 00:00

SPRINGBOK wing Bryan Habana was the toast of Twickers and the British press after scoring all three tries for the Barbarians in their 25-18 weekend win over New Zealand in London at the weekend.

Frustratingly, after weeks of watching largely sterile rugby and a string of Springbok tour defeats, Saturday’s season finale — reportedly the most entertaining of contests — was not televised.

“Habana is fast becoming the scourge of New Zealand,” wrote Nick Cain in the London Sunday Times.

“The Springbok wing picked up where he left off in the Tri-Nations by scoring a scintillating hat-trick for the Barbarians to see them to a famous victory over the All Blacks, their first since the famous Gareth Edwards-inspired 1973 classic.

“Habana’s heroics spoilt New Zealand’s previously unbeaten autumn, and saw their line crossed for the first time in five matches. The star-studded Barbarians punished the All Blacks coach, Graham Henry, for fielding a second-string outfit in a fiercely competitive match.”

The Barbarians were not short of motivation as captain Victor Matfield said the nine South Africans in the 22-man squad were seeking a clean sweep by beating the All Blacks for the fourth time this year while the four Wallabies were chasing their first win in five internationals against the New Zealanders this season.

And in charge was former Bok and current Italian coach Nick Mallett, who had his own point to prove. Club contractural obligations resulted in only one player from the four Home Unions playing in the game but nearly 70 000 spectators still arrived for the game and left happy. The lone home interest was Welsh and British Lions centre Jamie Roberts who formed a powerful midfield combination with Bok Jaque Fourie outside the sublime Wallaby flyhalf Matt Giteau.

The Sunday Telegraph’s Gavin Mairs described the occasion as a fascinating game of rugby and an emphatic smack in the chops for anyone who thinks that Test rugby has to be programmed and risk-free.

“Of course, the Barbarians had a shed load of hugely-gifted individuals. They also had Bryan Habana, who scored three tries and proved beyond a scintilla of doubt that he is the most charismatic rugby player on the planet at the moment.

“Habana was something else. He poached his tries supremely well, but it was the other stuff that marked him out as special. He almost knocked himself out when tackling Brendon Leonard as New Zealand strove to get back into the game. And it was Habana’s eagerness to get into the match with his supercharged runs close to the breakdown which demonstrated just how much a victory meant to the Barbarians.”

Mairs said the Baa-Baas were so desperate to win that they kicked a penalty in the 77th minute to stretch their lead to seven points.

“So desperate was Schalk Burger to hang on to that advantage that he put his body on the line for the umpteenth time to tackle Mike Delany in the final act of the match. Jamie Roberts ran about 30 metres to hug Burger after the tackle. So did Morné Steyn. It was that important to them.”

Steyn, who came on as a second-half replacement for Wallaby fullback Drew Mitchell, kicked a late penalty and, after a Giteau break, made the scoring pass for Habana’s third try, which took the Baa-Baas ahead after 68 minutes.

Mitchell had fashioned Habana’s first try, launching a counter-attack from inside his own 22-metre line, but the Bok wing’s second, on half-time, was all his own as he raced 60 metres to score after a characteristic interception.

“That’s up there with the best,” Habana told Cain of the win. “We have an unbelievably talented group of players, and to beat an All Black side that hasn’t lost and hasn’t conceded a try is special.”

The Baa-Baas coach and captain, Nick Mallett and Victor Matfield, both South Africans, were also elated.

“Nobody will forget 1973 and we understand the ethos of what the Barbarians is about,” said Mallett.

“Bryan Habana is exceptional, a fantastic player to coach because you don’t have to coach him. He understands defensive systems so well and it is no coincidence he scores so many intercept tries.

“A lot of people have been depressed about the quality of rugby on show last month, but there we saw two teams who had attacking mindsets,” said Mallett. “They defended well but looked to attack. Of course there was kicking — that’s a part of the game — but there were also tries.”

For Matfield it was the topping to what has been a remarkably successful season with the Bulls and the Springboks.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Matfield said. “All week we heard about Barbarians traditions. To be part of something that great is awesome. We had a lot of fun, but went out there and played like professionals.”

All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith was despondent about the loss of the unbeaten record.

“It’s disappointing really, but the Barbarians are a great team.”

Scorers:

Barbarians: Tries: Habana 10, 40, 68 Conversions: Giteau (2) Penalties: Giteau, Steyn.

New Zealand: Tries: Smith 23, Boric 61 Conversions: Donald Penalties: Donald, Delany

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