Wednesday 11 December 2019 5:18 pm

Bryan Habana: South Africa's World Cup win has already had a huge impact on the country and will give the 2021 Lions' Tour extra spice

Five weeks have passed since South Africa won the Rugby World Cup but the impact that the achievement will have on the nation is only just beginning. 

The Springboks beat England 32-12 in Yokohama last month to claim their third World Cup, with each triumph having come 12 years apart. 

But this latest trophy, which drew them level with New Zealand on tournament wins, is the most significant yet, according to South African legend Bryan Habana.

Read more: New Zealand coaches still the most sought-after as Wales and Australia turn to Kiwis to lead

“Winning the World Cup in 1995 inspired me to become a rugby player and our victory in 2007 had a great impact on the country, but this year they created history,” Habana tells City A.M.

“They were the first side to break the mould of having lost a game in the tournament and go on to win it. Siya Kolisi became the first black African to lift the trophy. It’s already had an amazing impact.”

It was also the biggest margin by which a team has won a final and Habana believes the result will inspire a generation. 

England v South Africa - Rugby World Cup 2019 Final
Siya Kolisi became the first black captain to lift the Webb Ellis Cup

“Players like Kolisi and [Makazole] Mapimpi came from deprived communities,” says Habana, South Africa’s all-time leading try scorer. “There’s a lot the country is going through. I hope there’s a lot this can do, like bringing people from different backgrounds together.”

Kolisi, who like Mapimpi grew up in Eastern Cape, became not only the first black Springboks captain but the first black captain to lift the Webb Ellis Cup. 

The pair both rose from poverty and against the odds, despite severe hardship and the deaths of family members. Theirs’ are stories to inspire the millions still living in deprivation across South Africa.  

“This side is very different to 2007,” Habana says. “We won all seven games, but this team had to overcome a lot more adversity: losing to New Zealand in the first game, spending nine weeks in Japan. It’s just incredible, it’s going to inspire a new generation.”

Lions’ challenge

The 36-year-old praised the Springboks’ “clear game plan” and “physicality” in their win over England in the final. And now they are ready to embrace the challenge of welcoming the British and Irish Lions to the continent in 2021.

“Coming to South Africa to face the World Champions definitely adds a little more spice to the Lions tour,” he says. “Every time they come to South Africa they face World Cup winners – I don’t want to say it’s written in the stars.

“They are massive role models in world rugby and the chance to play them doesn’t happen very often, maybe only once in a player’s career.” 

South Africa will have a different head coach at the helm, however, after Rassie Erasmus confirmed he would step down to focus on his role as director of rugby.

South Africa Rugby World Cup Victory Tour
Rassie Erasmus is to step down as head coach to focus on his role as director of rugby

There’s no chance of Habana being involved in a coaching capacity, though, after he ruled out going down that avenue. 

Having spent much of the World Cup on our television screens, he is now refocused on integrating himself into the world of business, having graduated from Toulouse Business School last summer. However, he would also be open to a consulting role. 

“I would love to do some consulting or mentoring if offered the chance,” he says. “But it is really business that invigorates and excites me. I had a 16-year career in rugby but life goes on. I’m really grateful for what I have achieved, but for over 16 years my family and I have sacrificed so much. I want to enjoy my time being with them. 

“Coaching is a thankless task. You can be the best coach in the world but if your team stops performing it’s your job on the line. Business is a lot more consistent than that.”

Business opportunities

The ex-Toulon wing began venturing into business during his playing career by buying property and investing, including into a pension fund that paid out at 32. 

But following his retirement, the additional time has allowed him to take on more opportunities, including the World Cup punditry with ITV, as well as starting a couple of businesses: digital sports marketing agency Retroactive and a fintech startup.

South Africa v Namibia - Rugby World Cup 2019: Group B
Habana worked as a pundit on ITV during the World Cup but will now return to his business ventures

The all-time leading World Cup try scorer is also an ambassador for Mastercard and HSBC – sponsors for the Rugby World Cup and Rugby Sevens Series respectively – as well as CircleDNA, a genetic testing service that is becoming increasingly popular among athletes.

“Understanding my body at the end of my career was incredibly important,” Habana says of having his DNA tested. “I found out a lot about myself, including that I’m lactose intolerant, at 36 years old.

“There were things that I’d picked up on throughout my career, but certain things I learnt, like my ability for long-distance training. In hindsight, I think I probably could have pushed myself a little bit further.”

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The testing kit launched in the UK last week and claims to be the most comprehensive on the market, analysing more than 500 physical, mental and dietary categories at an accuracy of 99.9 per cent. 

“We call it the change-maker process and it’s something that I believe can really open people’s minds,” Habana says. “In elite-level sport the smallest margins can make a difference and this can help you adapt your style a little bit and improve longevity at the highest level.”

With or without DNA analysis, Habana played his way into the history books in an illustrious rugby career. The South African will be hoping for similar longevity in the business world.

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