Cape Town - A more settled team environment has led to a turnaround in the Springboks’ fortunes in 2017, veteran wing Bryan Habana believes.
In 2016, during Allister Coetzee’s first season as head coach, the Springboks won only four of 12 Tests - their worst win percentage in a calendar season.
But the Boks have started 2017 on a high note by comfortably beating France in their first two outings, with the third and final Test to be played in Johannesburg on Saturday.
Habana, who plies his trade at French club Toulon, was part of the tumultuous 2016 campaign and was not picked for the series against France.
He is currently nursing a knee injury and has indicated that he is unsure about his international future.
The 124-Test capped wing spoke to Sport24 at the launch of his Team Habana foundation in Cape Town on Thursday where he said he was impressed by what he’s seen from the Boks this year.
When probed on what went wrong in 2016, Habana replied:
“Last year, Allister didn’t have a lot of time to build a team and also remain consistent in his selections. This year, for three weekends in a row he’s able to almost pick 14 out of 15 guys,” Habana said.
“Consistency and player performance plays a big role. Last year on the field, the individuals didn’t 'gel' together quick enough. Allister didn’t have as much time with everyone.”
Captain Adriaan Strauss’ decision to retire from the international game also had an impact on the team, Habana believes.
“Now with Warren (Whiteley) everyone is on the same page. So there’s not just one factor. I think this year’s planning made a big contribution towards to where the team currently is at. And it’s very exciting to see.”
There were doubts regarding the Springboks' game style throughout 2016 but this year there appears more direction, with the team displaying impetus with ball in hand and impressing with their organisation on defence.
Habana insists there was a proper “Bok blueprint” in 2016 but the individuals simply did not step up.
“I think last year there were probably various different views outside of the actual camp, but there was definitely a way in which the Springboks wanted to play. It wasn’t just a defensive role - it was (attempting to) play winning rugby. And in whichever way you do that - you play towards your strengths - this year, more so than not it’s about making sure the combinations work really well.”
Decision making remains vital in international rugby, Habana insists.
“When you play Test match rugby it comes down to decision making... when you have the opportunity to run the ball out of your 22... or hold onto the ball in the opposition’s 22. So there was a style of play, a blueprint. And even last year there was an opportunity within that for individual ability to come to the forefront. But last year the individuals didn’t really step up, from an individual performance point of view.”
Coetzee has roped in Brendan Venter (defence and exits consultant) and Franco Smith (attack and skills) as assistant coaches and Habana believes these additions have been welcome to the team’s cause.
“Brendan comes with a wealth of knowledge and his CV - in terms of success and what he’s achieved at the various different teams that he’s been involved with - speaks for itself.
“What Franco did with the Cheetahs in the Currie Cup last year was really great. You’ve got different thinkers... so it’s great to have guys that are Springboks, that come with success, involved.
“But you can bring the best coaches in the world, if the players aren’t ready to make the step up then it’s not going to make a difference.
“But the environment right now looks really pleasant, it looks like a settled one where there’s a lot of feeling for each other. And it’s easy to get closer (to each other) when you’re winning.
“Last year there were lots of issues that needed to be sorted out from a management point of view, form a logistic point of view and from an individual point of view, so I think it (this year) is really exciting.
“Allister and Warren will both immediately say there’s a lot to work on, that they're definitely not the finished product, but it’s really encouraging and really positive to see where the team is going at the moment."
About Team Habana:
Team Habana is an experiential learning programme designed to develop young people’s confidence and competence in a range of leadership behaviours in order for them to fully discover their leadership potential. First established in London in 2015, the Cape Town addition of Team Habana will provide young South Africans with a one-year extraordinary experience of training, mentoring and skills development and then provide them with an opportunity to return to their communities equipped to act as a beacon of hope to other young South Africans by sharing their knowledge and experiences from Team Habana.Bryan Habana speaking at the launch of Team Habana in Cape Town on Thursday.