Tuesday 25 June 2019

Springbok legend Bryan Habana wrote a five-page essay on Brian O'Driscoll that helped change his rugby destiny

Bryan Habana tries to chase down Brian O'Driscoll during the Lions Tour of South Africa in 2009
Bryan Habana tries to chase down Brian O'Driscoll during the Lions Tour of South Africa in 2009
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

South African rugby legend Bryan Habana has detailed how Brian O'Driscoll and former coach Eugene Eloff were the catalysts for one of the biggest decisions of his career.

Habana, his country's record tryscorer with 67 in 124 test matches, began his professional career as a scrumhalf at the Lions but was convinced to make the move to 13, a move that would catapult him to the top of the game.

Eloff, the backs coach at the Lions at the time, recognised that Habana had the attributes to thrive as an outside centre and asked the youngster to write an essay on a player he wished to emulate in terms of style. Habana chose Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll.

At the time, O'Driscoll had just lit up the 2001 Lions tour of Australia with his mesmeric skills.

Speaking to The Left Wing, Independent.ie's rugby podcast in association with Laya Healthcare, Habana was asked to identify the coach who had influenced his career the most by former Leinster, Ireland and Lions winger Luke Fitzgerald.

"If there was one guy I have to single out it was Eugene Eloff when I was a 21-year-old youngster playing with the Lions," he said.

"I'm not sure how many people in Ireland know this but I actually started off my junior pro career as a scrumhalf.

"Eugene pulled me aside, and I had captained the Lions under-19s the year before, he said I really believe that if you're going to make it I need to change to centre and he made me choose a player to do an essay on and firstly I was like 'I quit university to play rugby and you're making me do an essay?'

"He said 'choose a player you can mould yourself around' and I'll never forget that I actually did a 4-5 page essay on Brian O'Driscoll.

"Brian had come onto the scene on that Lions Tour in 2001 and I did this whole essay on centre play and I actually got my big break playing at centre for the Lions in 2004.

"Under his tutelage, I moved from scrumhalf to centre and from there the fairytale continued.

"He played a vital role on how my career turned out. He was important because he made that decision with me."

Habana went on to play a crucial role in South Africa's 2007 Rugby World Cup success and was named International Rugby Board Player of the year in the same year.

He also has one Tri-Nations trophy in his cabinet to go with his two Currie Cup triumphs for the Bulls and Western Province.

He moved to French club Toulon in 2013 and won the Heineken Cup and the French top 14 in 2014 as well as the European Champions Cup in 2015.

The 34-year-old announced his retirement last week due to a long-term knee injury.

Subscribe to The Left Wing, Independent.ie's Rugby podcast in association with Laya Healthcare, with Luke Fitzgerald and Will Slattery for the best discussion and analysis each week. From in depth interviews with some of Irish rugby's biggest stars to unmatched insights into the provinces and the national team, The Left Wing has all your rugby needs covered.

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