Bryan Habana’s trophy-laden career contained a few rugby fairytales, but no story quite as good as the one about how he fell in love with the game.
Habana reveals all in the second episode of Jersey Tales, a new YouTube series from World Rugby, as he takes viewers on his journey from the King Edward VII School U14 G team to Rugby World Cup glory.
Fans might be surprised to learn that Habana — the joint-record try scorer in Rugby World Cup history — was not destined to become a rugby player at all, let alone a Springbok and world champion.
It was during Rugby World Cup 1995 in South Africa that the young Habana was first introduced to the game by his football-made father. A chance encounter with then Springbok captain Francois Pienaar on the eve of the tournament would change his life forever.
“My dad got me into understanding how big this Rugby World Cup that was going to be played in South Africa was,” he said.
“At the Springboks’ last training session before going into camp for the Rugby World Cup, after training, waiting outside to get autographs, Francois Pienaar called three of us aside — and in those days it was still very amateurish, so he said, ‘Listen, you guys are going to help me’.
“And, we were like, OK, what’s that all about? He said, ‘You’re going to help me carry my bags and gear to my car’.
“So, here’s a 12-year-old, very skinny Bryan Habana taking Francois Pienaar’s warm-up bag to the car, and as we got to the car he said, ‘Gentleman, thank you very much’ and he took out an item of clothing for each and everyone of us.
“And, I got a Springbok training jersey that I got to wear for about five to six years.”
Habana was one of 59,870 fans lucky enough to be at Ellis Park on 24 June, 1995 as Pienaar lifted the Webb Ellis Cup on home soil.
That experience helped to convince the 12-year-old South African to pick up an oval ball, and when he started at King Edward VII the following year he played the game for the first time.
From humble beginnings in the U14 G team, Habana graduated to play for the school first team before going on to play for the Golden Lions, Bulls, Stormers, Toulon, the Barbarians and of course the Springboks.
In this week’s episode of Jersey Tales, Habana explains why he refused to swap shirts with Ben Cohen following his test debut, reveals the lengths he went to to secure the RWC 2007 final match ball and relives a magical time in France with Toulon.
Watch the full episode above, and don’t forget to check the official World Rugby YouTube channel for a new episode every Thursday.