Springbok Icon Bryan Habana: 'I'm Still a Work in Progress'

rugby world cup
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I’ve learned a lot from our recent defeats. Despite three disappointing results against Australia, New Zealand and Argentina there’s been a surge of team belief. We bounced back and avenged the loss to the Pumas in our final World Cup warm-up game in Buenos Aires. We’re now looking to play as well as, if not better than we did during the 2011 World Cup where we made it to the quarter-finals. We’re seeing good energy and a strong growth dynamic in the youngsters – but we’re going to have to hit the ground running.

From a young age I always wanted to be the best I could be. I wanted to become the best rugby player possible, whether at club level or playing for my country. I owe the success of the last three years to this will to work hard, improve my game and adapt through the good times and the bad times. Now my international rugby career has gone way beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve enjoyed the whole adventure so far, playing a sport that I love and getting paid for it, travelling around the world, cultivating long-lasting friendships with my team-mates.

I’m proud of my speed but it’s not my greatest achievement. My best 40m time is 4.58 seconds. It’s critical to get a time like that – although being able to run at speed when throwing passes under sustained pressure is even more important. But my real biggest accomplishment is being a father. I’m 14 months into it and our little boy Timothy has been keeping me and my wife Janine very busy. It’s a lot of sleep deprivation but an unbelievable amount of joy.

I’ve never seen myself as a finished product but as a work in progress. I’m constantly seeking to improve my game in any way possible. As for the rest of the team, some players are more ready than others but I’d say for now we’re all where we want to be. At the end of August we’ll touch base on our progress – we haven’t even begun the training yet as we’ve had a few weeks off until now not playing any rugby. Two hard weeks of training starts on 20th August, and that’s when we’re going to work really hard on fitness.

The great champions are those that shine in the long run, not just at their peak. Maintaining form is key. The fitter you are, the better and the longer you can play at high intensity. But having a good game plan or strategy in place is just as important.

Preseason is about setting both short-term and long-term goals. They’ll help keep you on track, and encourage you to seek to improve yourself every day, every week. It can be hard to get back to training after a long period of holiday and you can’t always bring yourself up to speed in the first week, so the only way you’re going to stick to it is to have a specific plan in place to keep yourself accountable.

Sprint training is tough but crucial. We do what’s called repeated sprint agility training. It’s vital to work our anaerobic systems and train explosively but in an aerobic endurance setting where you're constantly getting fatigued to mimic the demands of a rugby match. That's where interval sprints make the difference. 

I couldn’t train without my Mission EndraCool Towel. When I’m training outdoors in Durban, with the temperatures rising to 30°C or more, I’m dripping in sweat and the towel really helps cool me down quicker during my session. It’s made of a lightweight performance fabric with microfibres that absorb moisture and perspiration, and when it’s soaked with water it instantly cools you down. 

Injuries are inevitable but you can come back stronger. It’s part of the sport and it won’t necessarily slow down the training of the team. If anything it was a blessing in disguise for some of our players like Jean de Villiers and Pieter-Steph du Toit, who haven’t been playing so they’ve been saving energy and optimising their recovery before World Cup training. Injuries aren’t ideal, but they’re nothing to be alarmed about.

I feel excited more than stressed about the World Cup’s rigours. Every pool has one or two teams that plays really good rugby – Australia, Argentina, Ireland and Wales are playing well. England could also rise to the occasion on home turf and we’ve seen Stuart Lancaster pretty confident lately with a solid team of players that showed good form and strategy. That said, the Springboks have nothing to fear and we're ready to come after world-leading teams like the All Blacks. They may have pushed us down the world rankings after we won the World Cup in 2007 but we intend to show our strength and make our country proud once again.

This is likely to be my last World Cup. Coping physically with my engagements to the Springbok and Toulon is becoming increasingly difficult to do year in year out. Staying in shape and mentally strong is the hardest part, but everything that goes along with it – like the constant pressure of the media – can also impact confidence, progress and performance.

Mission Athlete Care ambassador Bryan Habana uses the Mission EnduraCool towel to keep cool during training and matches. Click here to visit Pro Direct to buy the towel.