Bok find: So is he ‘Aphiwe Habana’?

Aphiwe Dyantyi (Gallo)
Aphiwe Dyantyi (Gallo)

Cape Town – You can always trust Bryan Habana to put a suitably astute, measured perspective on things.

A follower of the Springbok legend, who commands a Twitter audience of not far off half a million, almost inevitably used the medium at the weekend to trumpet - as Aphiwe Dyantyi sparkled anew for the Springboks against Argentina in Durban - that he was the “next Habana”.

Quick as the flash he used to be on a rugby field in his heyday, Habana quickly countered on his handle (@BryanHabana): “No, the next Aphiwe Dyantyi! Absolutely brilliant to watch! What a talent! May his star continue burning bright and inspiring many.”

A model professional throughout his glittering international career, and not the sort you associated with inflated-ego hallmarks, Habana clearly appreciates the burden of emerging sportspeople being lumped with the dangerous, highly pressure-triggering “next (insert iconic name)” mantle.

In the Dyantyi/Habana instance, it’s such a big call to make, too, when the former is only feeling his way into Test rugby (four caps, the first as recently as June 9 this year) while the latter won every possible major team honour available in a Bok career spanning almost precisely a dozen years between 2004 and 2016.

A World Cup, a Tri-Nations title, a British and Irish Lions series triumph, world and South African player of the year laurels, Super Rugby and Currie Cup tournament successes … Habana scooped them all.

With three tries from his first four Test appearances, Dyantyi is off to a near-flier in strike rate terms, but even then he is already lagging behind fellow left wing Habana at an equivalent period in his Bok development.

The legendary figure is well remembered for his late, memorable consolation try as a debut-making substitute against then-World Cup holders England at Twickenham in November 2004, a game the Boks were nevertheless comprehensively beaten in (32-16).

But he was back in tryline-visitation business on maiden start just a week later at Murrayfield, registering two in a 45-10 thumping of Scotland at Murrayfield.

Habana then couldn’t add another against Argentina in Buenos Aires, but in his own fourth appearance in the green and gold at the start of the 2005 Test season against minnows Uruguay in East London, he got another brace - meaning he was already scoring, Premiership striker-like, at more than a try a game (five in four games).

It would be quite something, frankly, for Dyantyi, who turns 24 on Sunday - a day after the Mendoza Test against the Pumas - to manage even a third of the team and personal laurels earned by Habana, who also rose to Bok recognition earlier; he was 21 on start-out for the country.

The South African rugby landscape has changed a lot in recent times, and most of it not for the better, with a return to some sort of golden age for the national team still a long way from realisation despite the determined steps back toward loftier tiers thus far under the charge of new coach Rassie Erasmus.

But at a time when the embattled rugby product as a whole in our country cries out for new, genuinely reinvigorating heroes (and more especially in backline terms?) Dyantyi is looking more and more the part as a prospect on that front.

He seems part of that elite breed of players capable of making something out of apparently nothing, which is what made up a decent chunk of Habana’s attributes in his prime.

A fine stepping stone on that passage toward pin-up appeal, of course, was his hard-to-quibble-with first official player of the match award after Saturday’s 34-21 victory over the Argentineans at Kings Park, where his predatory instincts - something Habana enthusiasts will always be able to dine out lavishly on - came firmly to the fore.

But his bustling, wriggling, highly committed, more general features were also in ample evidence against the Pumas … again, an area where Habana was always the hugely valued “team before self” character and competitor.

That willingness to get some dirt beneath the fingernails, as it were, is a mightily encouraging characteristic of Dyantyi’s.

As with Habana, much of that is sparked from a more internal part of the anatomy: the heart.

He has already shown that he isn’t just a “fast pitch” player, having now prospered for the Boks on the softer surface at Kings Park and also putting in a suitably steady shift, well out of preferred habitat - it would be so for most back-three men – in that miserable, wintry third Test against England at Newlands.

East London-born Dyantyi has the lion’s share of physical similarities with Habana: they are almost identical, low-centre-of-gravity heights (around the 1.80-1.81m mark) although at this stage the rookie can’t boast Habana’s broadness of shoulders - so useful in breakdown contesting - and tips the scales around seven kilograms lighter, at a reported 87kg or thereabouts.

Understandably, he can’t yet be described as sharing anything like Habana’s sheer alertness and game-reading abilities on defence, which explains why sometimes he has been “sucked in”, causing a bit of trauma for the Boks when tested out wide by the rival attack.

That ought to progressively change, under the diligent tuition of Erasmus and others.

Despite the ever-rising, almost irresistible label, Dyantyi must keep trying to limit the “next Bryan Habana” noise to low volume in his own mind.

As Bryan Gary Habana reminded personally: he’s doing just fine developmentally as Aphiwe Odwa Dyantyi right now, thanks …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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